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Resilience is a skill that can be taught

Resilience is often described as the ‘invisible superpower’. In essence, resilience is having the capacity to be calm, clear and adaptive when the going gets tough. And let’s face it, the school years are full of challenging moments for kids; both socially and academically. On an international level, there is so much overwhelming evidence of the importance of resilience, policy makers and educators have outlined frameworks for schools, with the Australian incarnation launching in October last year. The good news is that resilience is a skill that can be taught and, like other educational outcomes, it is most successful when schools work in partnership with families.

Read on for our cheat sheet on what to look for in resilient children or click here to learn more about the benefits of schools and families working together.

Australian kids are highly stressed

Nearly half (47%) of Australian kids feel very tense when they study, compared to the international average of 37%. School can be a daunting prospect for some, with a veritable layer cake of complexities tied up in concerns about academic achievement, social pressures and relationships, as well as the challenges inherent in growing up and transitioning to and from primary and secondary school. If you want to connect with some of that angst in a more visceral way, cast your mind back to your own teenage years and think of one thing that you did then that you wouldn’t do now. It’s amazing how quickly we, as adults, can forget how much children and teenagers have going on in their lives.

Resilience supports academic achievement and should be part of a broader, preventative health strategy

The inability to roll with the punches has ramifications for learning and life. These include higher rates of dropping out, lower levels of academic achievement and engaging in risky behaviours. Studies have also shown that academic resilience increases the chances of success in the classroom. This, coupled with the fact that half of lifelong mental illness starts before the age of 14, is a good incentive for schools, parents and communities to engage with resilience as part of a broader, and more importantly preventative, mental health strategy.

Building resilience is part of the development of social and development skills

Resilience does not prevent children from experiencing stressful times. But children powered by resilience are able to build coping skills, and these are the very same skills that help children deal with stress. So what does resilience look like in action? Community Psychologist and KidsMatter’s National Project Director Dr Lyn O’Grady shares a few things to look for:

  • use positive self-talk for encouragement
  • capably express their feelings and thoughts
  • not hide away from strong feelings
  • have helpful, age-appropriate strategies to manage their emotions if they are upset
  • rearrange their plans to work around an unexpected situation
  • use a trial-and-error approach in their daily life
  • remain hopeful and keep on trying if something doesn’t work out
  • know when to stop trying if they decide the effort is not worthwhile
  • actively ask for help if they need it.

(Source: Kids Matter)

Schools are a cross between a safety net and a trampoline

When it comes to resilience, schools are somewhere between a safety net and a trampoline; ready to catch children if they fall, and giving them a lift back up when they need it. This support could come as either literacy support staff or counsellors, but also in the teaching of social and emotional skills, particularly for schools who work in a Whole School Approach (WSA) context. Dr Lyn O’Grady advises using the real-life stressors children experience when working on these skills.

Getting parents involved is essential

We all know how important the school-parent partnership is. It really does take a village. Dr Rangan Chatterjee recommends good sleep, good nutrition, exercise, modelling gratitude and teaching delayed gratification as other ways to encourage resilience in children. All of which are entry points for schools to partner with parents in developing resilient children.

Click here to read how a fully integrated school communication app such as School Stream can help Principals to stay engaged with families.