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Every child will experience some sort of difficulty in his or her life—from extreme trauma, such as violent events on school grounds, to unavoidable incidents, such as losing a loved one. Although schools work hard to minimize exposure to severe adverse trauma, avoiding life’s challenges completely is impossible. By promoting resilience, educators and caregivers can help children develop the skills they need to cope with life’s challenges.
What is resilience and what promotes it?
Resilience can be thought of as the ability to overcome adversity and is about developing skills to help deal with life’s obstacles. Skills, or factors, associated with resilience include individual behaviors, attitudes, and competencies as well as family, school, and community support. Exposure to adverse childhood experiences (such as abuse or trauma) has been linked to negative life outcomes. However, not every child exposed to negative experiences suffers poor outcomes. Researchers have found that the factors described below are associated with resilience and help explain why some children “beat the odds.”
Individual Behaviors, Attitudes, and Competencies Associated with Resilience
- Physical health supports resilience, including getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and enjoying good health.
- Social and emotional competencies that promote resilience include stress management; a sense of control over one’s life; positive relationship to self including self-efficacy, self-regulation, and self-esteem; hopefulness and goal-setting with the motivation and perseverance needed to reach those goals; and social competence.
- Cognitive competencies that help include insightfulness and general skills such as problem-solving, information processing, and intellectual ability.
Family, School, and Community Support Associated with Resilience
- A positive and supportive family, including warmth, stability, cohesiveness, a positive parenting style, and high expectations.
- Presence of a caring adult outside the family, such as a teacher, counselor, coach, or mentor.
- Belonging to groups and institutions, like schools, clubs, organizations, and religious communities.
What strategies can schools use to build student resilience?
Fortunately, resilience is malleable, not a fixed trait, so there are strategies schools can use to help promote the skills associated with resilience to help children cope well with challenges. Strategies schools can use include:
- Promoting positive social connections between staff and students, among students, and between schools and home.
- Nurturing positive qualities, such as empathy, optimism, or forgiveness, and giving students a chance to use them.
- Noticing and reinforcing qualities (those listed above) that are key to resilience.
- Avoiding a focus on failure or negative behaviors.
- Teaching by example; training staff to develop the same qualities being taught to students.
- Applying restorative justice techniques that can help schools give students a structured opportunity to work difficulties out via reflection and empathy.
- Fostering feelings of competence and self-efficacy.
- Setting high expectations for students.
- Teaching students to set realistic, achievable goals.
- Teaching students to how to reach out for help when needed.
Common components of resilience
- Alvord, M. K., & Grados, J. J. (2005). Enhancing resilience in children: A proactive approach. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36(3), 238-245.
- Dent, R. J., & Cameron, R. J. S. (2003). Developing resilience in children who are in public care: The educational psychology perspective. Educational Psychology in Practice, 19(1), 3.
- Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes to death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14, 245-258.
- Masten, A. S., & ObradoviÄ†, J. (2006). Competence and resilience in development. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1094(1), 13-27.
Strategies schools can use to promote resilience
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.) Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resilience.aspx. Hurlington, K. (2010). Bolstering resilience in students: Teachers as protective factors. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/WW_bolstering_students.pdf.
- Benard, B. (n.d.) From risk to resiliency: What schools can do. Retrieved from http://www.tanglewood.net/projects/teachertraining/Book_of_Readings/Benard.pdf.
- Gallagher, R., & Chase, A. (n.d.). Building resilience in children in the face of fear and tragedy. Retreived from http://4h.missouri.edu/programs/military/resources/manual/Building-Resilience-in-Children.pdf.
- Healthy Children Magazine. (2014). Building resilience in children. Retrieved from http://www.healthychildren.org/english/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/pages/Building-Resilience-in-Children.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR:+No+local+token.
- Murphey, D., Barry, M., & Vaughn, B. (2013). Positive mental health: Resilience. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Child_Trends-2013_11_01_AHH_Resilience.pdf.
- Smith Harvey, V. (2007). Schoolwide methods for fostering resiliency. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
We encourage you to explore our website for further information. Here are a few of our listed resources that address resilience:
- Building Resilience in Children
- Building Resilience in Children in the Face of Fear and Tragedy
- Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers
- Resilience and Stress Management Resource Collection
- Supplemental research bulletin: Children and disasters