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Building resilience in the classroom is becoming increasingly important. On average, children in the UK spend 635 hours in the classroom each year; with everything else on the curriculum, how do you teach resilience?
Teaching resilience will come in many forms. It’s unlikely to be a lesson blocked off and called “resilience”. With it being so integral to your time with your students, it’s not enough to just know the tactics to teach the skill.
In this article, we’re going to delve a little deeper.
We’re going to help you:
- Understand the nature of resilience and why it’s important to your pupils.
- Understand the concept of resilience in children.
- Identify what a resilient child does and doesn’t look like.
- Learn some strategies you can bring into your classroom to teach resilience.
Meaning your students will leave your care better able to cope with the world around them.
What is resilience?
Being resilient encapsulates different qualities. The definition of resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, adversities, and setbacks.
For a long time, resilience has been seen as an outcome of difficult times; you face a challenge, you become more resilient. However, it is really much more of a process. Resilience is about how you actually react to and cope with emotional and mental stress.
To be resilient is to be determined, to have grit, and to be able to persevere. These sound like rather grown-up characteristics, but they’re also exactly what you’d expect from a student who’s got a tough homework assignment or who’s been given a group task to complete.
A resilient child won’t get overwhelmed or show signs of emotional distress quickly. Instead, they’ll have coping mechanisms to deal with challenges. Think of the task of tying shoelaces – we’ve all known the struggle. When a child tries to learn, watches others, and practises tying their laces rather than immediately asking a teacher or teaching assistant for help, they have a strategy for coping with a problem.
Resilience doesn’t mean a child isn’t allowed to cry or show emotions. Resilience in schools means that pupils can express their emotions constructively without pain, fear, or anger.
Why is resilience important for children?
Childhood isn’t all adventures in the forest or computer games all evening. There are real challenges and difficulties that children can face.
What you as an adult find stressful, is likely to be just as tough for a young child to experience. Situations such as:
- Moving schools
- New siblings arriving
- Death in the family
- Moving house.
All these situations can be difficult to process for a child.
There is a lot of evidence that stress can lead to mental health issues for children, such as anxiety or depression. In an NHS survey, it was found that 18 per cent of girls and 12 per cent of boys were showing signs of depression and anxiety.
Teaching resilience in your classroom can help to combat these issues. When a child is resilient, they will be able to work through their challenges rather than focus on the problems they encounter. We all know that homework can be a stressful time. Giving a child tools to be able to seek help or the confidence to say “I don’t know” will help them not take the stress to heart.
Like with lots of our life skills, we can learn them as adults, but it’s easier when we’re young. Teaching resilience in your classroom means that you’re setting your pupils up to better cope with difficult finances, rocky relationships, and losing their loved ones when they reach adulthood.
The 7 Cs of resilience
Dr Ken Ginsburg first laid out the 7 Cs of resilience. His research has centred around helping children learn how to solve problems. His work encourages children to think up, explain, and set priorities for their own ideas. His work around resilience has been influential in how we understand what it looks like in children and how to develop the skills needed.
Let’s go through each of the seven so you know what they are and how they can be promoted in your classroom.
To be competent is to be able to do something. For a child this might mean they know that they can do their maths homework if they focus, or that they will be able to ride their bike all the way home.
To work on competence with a student, be sure that you focus on their strengths so they know what they’re good at. It’s also important to empower them so they can make their own decisions wherever possible; this could be choosing their own lunch or picking the book they’ll read during quiet time.
When a child is overprotected, they can feel like they should always defer decisions to adults. Take steps to show your student that they can do lots of things by themselves.
Very much linked to competence is confidence – when your pupil has belief in their own abilities. This can be anything from putting up their hand to answer a question, reading aloud in class, to taking the lead role in the Christmas play.
To instil confidence in a classroom setting, you need to focus on the best assets and qualities of the child rather than dwell on where they’re struggling. You need to be crystal clear about their qualities rather than too vague, “you’ve not gone outside of the lines once in your colouring sheet” is specific praise instead of “that’s a great picture”.
Finding ways to offer recognition to your students will also give them confidence. In a classroom setting, having a house points system or weekly awards for Star of the Week can build up each student’s confidence.
A child needs to feel that they have a place in the world and are cared about by others. As simple as this may sound, due to moving homes a lot or a difficult family life, this may not be the case. Being connected means a child is able to ask for what they want.
You can build connections for your students by making your classroom a safe space for them. The school can also have a “quiet room” where students can have some downtime if needed.
By working through conflict, you also show your class that they have a connection with each other. Noticing arguments and dealing with them in a fair way will model good behaviour and show everyone in class that you can be friends after falling out.
Having character is to have morals and values and to know right from wrong. When a student hands in a lost toy rather than keeping it or helps their classmate search for their missing pencil, you know that they have good character.
You can work on character within your classroom by showing that actions have consequences. It’s important that you follow through with what you tell your students, such as letting the students who finish best and fastest go home first. Correcting negative attitudes is another key element – if you hear any racist language, or any words that stereotype people, you need to explain clearly why it’s wrong.
Building character in a child will help them in their relationships with their peers now and into the future. You need to make sure everyone knows that they are naturally good and that they can make the right choices.
Show your students how they can make their world better. Knowing where you fit in the world and that you’re valued and important will help keep anxiety from creeping in. When a child understands they are capable of good, you might see them share their snacks at break time or volunteer to help a struggling classmate.
Make sure your students understand where they fit in the world and that there are people both better and worse off than them. You can also model what generosity looks like by creating chances for them to offer help – setting group tasks and mixing up abilities will give students a chance to offer support to each other.
Knowing how they contribute to others at school should lead to the child being able to contribute to wider society. Generosity as a child should translate to being kind and undertaking charity work as an adult.
To cope is to be able to deal with stress. Not letting stressful situations get the better of them will help your students be calm in whatever crisis may befall them. A child who can cope with stress will show perseverance with a tough writing assignment before approaching you for help, for example.
Just telling a student “no” rarely works. You need to explain to them why their actions are risky and what they can do differently – teaching them to evaluate a situation. Don’t ever shame a child for their behaviour otherwise they will try to hide it next time, which won’t be helpful.
Being able to cope with stress, knowing they are not going to get shouted at if they struggle or make a mistake will stop stress levels rising. With less stress, the chances of depression and anxiety forming later will diminish.
Children need to understand that they have a direct effect on the world around them. Knowing they can control events is an empowering feeling and lets them understand they can make changes. A child showing control would be them choosing a healthy snack at lunch after learning about nutrition.
Modelling the choices a child has and the actions that they can take can help them take control. You can set challenges around achieving in their schoolwork linked to the work they put in. For example, you can challenge your students to complete 20 addition problems then do a quiz to demonstrate that they’ve improved practice.
A child who understands how they control their world will know that their actions will affect their life. They should be less reckless and take fewer risks when they grasp that they are making decisions that will change them and their future.
What are the characteristics of a resilient child?
Resilience at school isn’t an absolute. It’s a continuous process of building and developing. You need to provide children with all the tools to cope with challenges over their time at school so they will be more resilient as adults.
You’ll be able to recognise a resilient child when they are:
- Interested in school, showing enthusiasm and engagement with their work, teachers, and friends.
- Able to solve problems that they get presented with, whether it’s a challenging classroom task or needing to help a pal deal with an issue.
- Assertive in being able to ask for what they need, whether it be asking to go to the toilet or asking for extra help with their work.
- Empathetic with their classmates and with you as their teacher, offering to tutor friends who struggle or talking to the child who’s alone at playtime.
- Responsible or seek responsibility, such as asking to be a monitor or assistant to you for certain tasks such as handing out books.
- Able to set and achieve goals, meaning they understand that their action will bring about results such as reading a book within a week.
- Positive in their outlook and can see the good in a situation rather than fixate on the difficulties; seeing a test as a chance to improve would be an example.
What are the characteristics of a non-resilient child?
Not being resilient will lead a child to feel stressed. As adults we display stress through problems with eating and taking care of ourselves, increased heartbeat and blood pressure, and problems with sexual function. Clearly, these aren’t going to apply to children in the same way.
Understanding when a child is stressed will be a signal that you need to focus on skills to build resilience. Use the 7 Cs as a framework to see where they might need help.
A stressed child will:
- Wet the bed – Although you may not know this directly, it’s possible they will tell you or a parent or carer will mention it as a reason for being late to school.
- Suffer headaches – A child may struggle to tell you they’re in pain but you can still notice physical signs of pain in their behaviour.
- Upset stomach – Asking for lots of toilet breaks or complaining of a poorly tummy could link with other indicators of stress that you notice.
- Sleep problems – Again, you won’t see this directly but a sleepy pupil or one whose regularly late because of oversleeping will be signs to watch out for.
- Refusing school – Truancy can be a sign of stressful situations at home or at school; it needs to be treated as a symptom of a problem rather than an issue in and of itself.
Everyday strategies for building resilience
How can you teach resilience in school? There are lots of actions you can take as part of other activities that will encourage your students to become more resilient.
Here are some ideas that you can implement in your classroom:
- Appoint monitors so your students have responsibilities such as sharpening the classroom crayons or collecting books at the end of class.
- Introduce a reward chart offering stars for behaviour, make it clear what they get points for and be specific – “offer to share your book” is more effective that “be nice”.
- Use group work often, ensuring your students have the chance to help each other and share their skills.
- Remove punishment measures from your classroom – they are demotivating and will go against everything else you work towards.
- Encourage activities where students choose and plan their actions, giving teams in the class a chance to decorate an area of the classroom in a theme will get them working together and planning a process.
By working on resilience early on, you can have a lifelong impact on your students. School isn’t just about core subjects; it’s about learning how to function in the world too.
As a teacher, understanding what resilience looks like through the 7 Cs of:
Will help you see where your students might be lacking and help you put together a plan to help.
When you bring in tactics to build resilience in the classroom, you should see a change in your students. They’ll be assertive, independent, strong, and optimistic. Recognising stress in the students in your class will also be an indicator to figure out their issues and give them tools to cope.
Resilient children will become resilient adults. We all know the challenges that being a grown-up presents and how they can affect our mental health. Developing tools to cope from childhood will make your students less likely to struggle with their mental health as they grow.