Cultivating Resilience at Home and in the Classroom

We often think of resilience as the ability to bounce back from difficulty, get back in the game, shake it off. While these expressions may paint a picture of what we would expect from a resilient person, it is not a complete picture. Resilience involves a process of adaptation to events, drawing on one’s ability to be flexible in their thoughts and behaviors during periods of stress or disruption. This dynamic process results in personal growth and a greater ability to overcome challenges in the future.

Resilient kids are ok with a range of emotions, interested in the feelings of others, dedicated learners, and effective communicators.

These characteristics are certainly worth the attention of parents and teachers!

So, how can we foster resilience at home and in the classroom? Below are some suggestions for everyday resilience building. Next week we’ll share ideas for cultivating resilience when times are tough.

Build strong connections. According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, having at least one dependable relationship with a parent, caregiver, or other adult, was the #1 factor in developing resilience. And though resilience tends to be defined as characteristics of an individual, connectedness with a social network is an important factor. In childhood, this support comes from healthy relationships with supportive adults. Small moments of connection add up, so be sure to work them in at every opportunity!

Create safe and predictable environments. Kids need support to thrive. They need to know they are safe. And they need to know (to the extent possible) what is happening next and what is expected of them. Establish predictable routines, give good directions, pre-teach new skills or situations, and set sturdy limits, to give kids the confidence that they know how to navigate the world around them.

Cultivate a sense of belonging. Knowing they belong is important to a child’s sense of identity. Set aside time for sharing and listening. At home, this could be sharing your “daily rose” at dinnertime (i.e., your flower, or the best thing about your day, and your thorn, or the worst thing about your day). In a classroom setting, this could be a daily check in at the beginning or end of the day, variations of show and tell, and class goals and celebrations. All of these activities should be guided by norms of respect that assure that all children feel heard, cared for, and included.

Elevate strengths. Each child has something that they are really good at. By recognizing and holding up these strengths, we can watch them blossom and extend into other areas of the child’s life. By that same token, even when an activity or effort is not going well for a child, we can shine a light on one thing that they ARE doing well. Be descriptive and focus on specific character traits. For example, instead of “you are really good at sharing”, you might say, “When you shared the rocket with Kali, you really showed that you cared about her feelings.” Or, if they’re stuck on a problem, “Look at the hard work you put into this math problem. You really followed all of the steps in this first part. Let’s take a look at the next step together.”

Set small goals and opportunities for reflection.  Setting solid goals and working toward them is another characteristic of resilience. When teaching children to set goals at home or in the classroom, it is important to start with small goals that are meaningful yet attainable. Let the kids take the lead, but be sure to help them set a clear goal with defined plans to check in about their progress and adjust their effort as needed. Remember to celebrate their progress and effort along the way!

Celebrate Progress and Effort. To build resilience, children need to know that they’re capable of learning new things, improving their skills, and meeting their goals. And progress requires effort. Teachers and parents can demonstrate the importance of effort by focusing their praise and mini-celebrations on processes rather than results. “You have been practicing dribbling the basketball every day! Your determination is really paying off. Last week it was hard to take a few steps and I just saw you make it all the way down the driveway! Keep it up!”

By practicing these small steps, we can help our children and students to make leaps towards resilience. Little by little they will be better able to handle a widening range of situations and feelings, emerging from each one a little stronger.

For more tips, check out our infographic: 8 Skills for Resilient Kids.


Image: © Gibson Outdoor Photography | Dreamstime.com

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