I think we can all agree that if nothing else the past 16 months have shown us how important resilience is for our everyday lives. This is true for adults down to our youngest and most vulnerable. We have all been through something that changed our lives so fast and so drastically that the effects will be with us for years to come. It wasn’t easy to change our routines, to stay in our homes, to not see our friends and family, but it is proving even harder to wrap our heads around the fact that this pandemic may not be going away anytime soon, that our old way of life may have forever been changed and that we are seeing our kids suffer the consequences to a degree we don’t even know yet. On top of that we faced losses – loss of life, loss of income, loss of stability and many others.
The Hard Truth about Resiliency
Even before the pandemic, society, in general, and education leaders, more specifically, were realizing the extreme need of social and emotional wellness for kids. We realize that in order for students to thrive and achieve success in school and beyond, they have to be equipped with more than just academic intelligence; they need emotional intelligence. Students need the skills to understand and manage their emotions so they can focus on their school tasks, solve problems independently so they can prepare for their future careers, and understand how to bounce back from mistakes and failures so they do not give up trying or lose confidence in their abilities.
The pandemic has only intensified the need for social and emotional wellness. School districts across the country are trying to make sure they are ready for the potential influx of student mental health needs. Billions of dollars are being infused into education across our country to recover learning loss and schools are tasked with using the money to address students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. Educators are rightfully worried about what to expect when their students return in the fall. What have the students been through over the past year? Did they have support or access to mental health services? How will students stay focused, motivated, and engaged when they potentially have even more baggage than in previous years? Will we see more symptoms of depression and anxiety in the classroom? The questions can go on and on.
- More kids are suffering from depression and anxiety. According to the CDC depression and anxiety were on the rise for children ages 6-17 even before the pandemic. We know that isolation can make these issues worse.
- Suicide rates are increasing. It is the second leading cause of death for young people.
- Drug abuse is increasing among teens and children.
- Parents are observing more behavior related difficulties in their kids than pre-pandemic.
- Stress is the #1 cause of both physical and mental health problems
The good news? There are steps we can take to improve our students’ resilience without it feeling like one more thing added to our plates.
Resilience-A Tool for ALL Kids
What exactly is resilience and what does it have to do with all of these critical social and emotional skills? Resilience is the ability to adapt well or bounce back from adversity, life changes, stress, trauma and/or loss. But even more than that it is about learning from that adversity and using those insights not just to bounce back but to bounce forward. For kids, life changes and stress can be caused by any number of different things from something happening they weren’t expecting, starting something new like a sport, activity, grade, camp, or things not going the way they want to bigger things like a loss, a trauma, or the unknowns of a pandemic. Resilience is a big part of social and emotional wellness because it aids in managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, and making responsible decisions. People with more resilience fared better emotionally during these trying months and kids with more resilience will fare better in the coming months.
Even before the pandemic, educators were keenly aware of the many challenges our nation’s students face. I am sure you can think of more than one student who has faced one or more of the following challenges: witness, victim, or perpetrator of bullying, witness of domestic violence, parents going through a messy divorce, incarcerated parent, drug use or alcohol abuse at home, death of a loved one, witnessed violence in the community, living in poverty or homeless, living in foster care or with family members other than parents, absent parents, parent in military, learning disability, emotional or mental health disorder, physical disability, witnessed or experienced a trauma or just struggle to fit in. The list can really go on and on. Unfortunately, many students come to school with a whole bunch of emotional baggage and then teachers are expected to get them to learn when all they can think (and worry) about is what they heard or saw that morning, where they are spending the night, if they are going to be yelled at or hit when they get home or a host of other things. We can’t always change our students’ situations for them…most times we can’t even if we know it’s bad. But we can give them a huge tool that will help that now and better ensure they come out on the other end with a chance at having a happy, productive life.
What we know:
- Students with higher resiliency are more likely to thrive in learning and less likely to suffer from social or psychological health problems
- Kids with resilience have higher social competence, can manage challenges easier and have a sense of purpose and hope.
- Greater resilience leads to improved learning and academic achievement.
When students have resilience they are happier, more confident in their abilities, they understand that motivation and effort are just as (and sometimes more) important as knowing how to do something and are more receptive to learning. When kids are resilient they have a more positive attitude, can turn their problems around quicker, can deal with adversities, they will succeed in life no matter what they face because they will be well equipped to solve problems and conflicts and believe in themselves and have the grit and fortitude to persevere. Being resilient doesn’t mean they will not face life changes, stressors, and anxieties or that all their problems will go away. It just means they will be more equipped to handle them. They will still feel anger, frustration and sadness, but their resilience will help them turn it around faster. Resilience isn’t just some trend or flashy word with little substance, it is the foundation of social and emotional wellness.
What we can do:
- Encourage students to help others, which can help them feel empowered. Talk about the power of feeling good because you helped someone else feel good. Those feel-good chemicals in their bodies will improve their mood, enhance their well-being and optimism which will, in turn, increase their resilience.
- Set aside time each week to try something new with your kids. It can be something small like a new food to something bigger like holding a creepy looking bug.The goal is to build their mental toughness, which will help them see obstacles and adversities as opportunities instead of threats. You can even have them keep adventure or challenge journals so they can look back at all the things they have challenged themselves to try.
- Teach your students self-care, including eating healthy, exercising, getting a good amount of sleep, and having downtime to just relax and have fun. Part of this can be engaging in mindfulness activities and yoga to help them let go of stress and be in the here and now.
- Help your kids make connections with others to help them build empathy, grow their support network, and encourage resilience. In school this can be done through simple team building activities or class meetings.
- Maintain a daily routine to give young students a sense of safety and structure in their lives, and encourage them to develop their own routines.
- Work on adding to your kids’ coping skills toolboxes. Some kids have more tools than others. It is important that all children have tools to fall back on when they are struggling, frustrated, upset, anxious, stressed or angry. Make stress balls together, talk about healthy ways to express anger like writing or drawing their feelings, do deep breathing together, have them write down a list of people they can talk to when needed, listen to calming music and explain how music affects our emotions and can be used to relieve stress and model taking a break when you need one to relax and recharge.
- Help your students set reasonable goals and move toward them, one step at a time; this will help them focus on what they have accomplished rather than what they haven’t accomplished. Chart the steps and celebrate together when they reach short term goals. Help them see that goals can be tweaked if needed because things change and that is ok.
- Instill a growth mindset in students by focusing on the process and how they can always grow and improve instead of focusing on the end product. You want to make sure you actually discuss their process with them so they know where their areas are for improvement.
- Build their problem solving skills. Let your kids solve their own problems. You are there if they need you, but encourage them to always try by themselves first. Teach them the problem solving process and stay strong when they are struggling. Struggle is good! It shows they are trying to figure it out. By doing it or solving it for them you tear down their self-efficacy. Show them you believe in them by letting them struggle, fail and try again.
- Nurture a positive self-view in your students by reminding them of the ways they have successfully handled problems, difficulties and hardships in the past, and connect their past success with their future potential. Be a positive mirror for them and reflect a good perception. Make it clear that you care about their likes and opinions.
…and one more bonus strategy!
- Promote optimism by having your students visualize success. This can be especially useful before hard lessons or tests.
So, yes, we have been through the wringer and our kids will most likely have long term impacts, some of which we may not even understand yet. But we do not have to sit idly by and wish for the days before COVID or feel helpless when students inevitably come back to the classroom with ranging needs. Pandemic or not, our kids need help to bolster their resilience so when faced with any of life’s challenges they are ready. Simple activities and conversations are a great start to help kids take advantage of this powerful tool.
Want another great resilience tool for your students…one that takes the work out of your hands? Check out TEAMology’s TEAMtalk with Ruby!