Anxiety levels may be at an all-time high among schoolchildren. The 24-hour news cycle, social media, and the rash of gun violence in schools has led to genuine fear and anxiety among many of our students. We may not be able to protect children from life’s emotional ups and downs but we can certainly strengthen their confidence in their ability to handle events as they happen, even traumatic ones. Increasing their confidence can ultimately reduce their anxiety.
Resilience refers to one’s ability to survive and positively withstand difficult and traumatic events. Research shows us that resilience is not born into certain people, but actually involves behaviors and actions that can be learned and developed. Anyone can be taught the skills and strategies needed to be resilient.
Schools need to focus on building resilience in children. Resilience does not mean being impervious to stress and traumatic events, but rather that one feels confident in their ability to physically and emotionally handle these situations. Teaching children to be resilient can also protect them from depression and other mental health conditions.
Teachers and schools can help give students the tools they need to be resilient.
There are many factors that go into the development of resilience in children, but by far the number one factor is having at least one, caring, committed and trusted adult. This is probably the best way for schools to begin resilience training for students. School-wide programs which seek to ensure that every student has a strong relationship with at least one adult in the building is a good place to start. Many schools have started advisory programs or schools within a school and one-on-one mentoring programs to help facilitate opportunities for these trusting relationships to develop.
It is critically important that there are programs in place to make sure no student is forgotten. It’s very easy to assume that a student that may not have a close relationship with you, may in fact have a closer relationship with another teacher. Oftentimes this is not the case, and the truth is that the student has no close relationship with any adults in the building. Faculty meeting time should be set aside to slowly go through the entire school roster to make sure every student is connected with someone. Teachers can make notes of students they feel especially connected to, and then these can be tallied and compiled to look for students who may feel disconnected.
Other factors that create resilience in children include learning to see and accept that change is a part of life, setting realistic goals and working each day toward those goals, nurturing a positive view of yourself, and looking for ways where hardships and tragedies have actually caused you personal growth. Again these are all tools and strategies that can be discussed, nurtured and taught in our schools.
So as schools look for ways of dealing with increased anxiety in students, we should take an active approach to helping students become resilient in the face of real or perceived dangers. Ensuring every student in the building has a strong, trusting relationship with one committed adult is step one. Couple that with a strong, engaging curriculum, along with an empowering student-centered approach to teaching and we can greatly increase the development of resilient children.