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Emotional Resilience – The X factor

We can provide a number of introductory or advanced learning interventions to help practitioners understand the importance of emotional resilience and how to practically utilise this knowledge in their work with children, young people & families. 

  A wide range of negative factors can be blamed for making life transitions more difficult for some children and young people rather than others. So what attributes do children/young people have that makes them cope better with difficulties and major change in their lives. Emotional resilience refers to the ability to adapt or deal with stressful situations or crisis.

Some examples in children/young people can include:

· Knowing how to stay calm and not getting extremely angry, down, or worried when difficulties occur.

· Being able to calm down and feel better when they get very upset.

· Being able to control behaviour when they are faced with challenges.

Resilience is, to a degree, something you're born with. However, resilience can be developed. An individual can become more resilient, even if they are naturally more sensitive to life’s difficulties. Some children/young people may simply be 'born survivors’; something in their makeup allows them to succeed despite the presence of numerous risk factors.

What are the Characteristics of Resilience?

Resilience is not a personality characteristic that you either have or don’t have. There are varying degrees of how well a person is able to handle stressful situations. However there are certain qualities that resilient people tend to possess. 

  • Emotional Awareness: Children/young people understand their own feelings and why they have them.

  • Perseverance: means trying hard to do your best and not giving up when something feels like it's too difficult or boring. Examples include continuing to try even when schoolwork is hard, not being distracted by others and checking work when it's finished to make sure it's correct. Whether children/young people’ are working toward goals and don’t give up easily.

  • Internal Locus of Control: Children/young people believe that they rather than outside forces are in control of their own lives.

  • Optimism: Children/young people see the positives in most situations and believe in their own strength.

  • Support: Even if children/young people are able to cope they know the value of social support and are happy and able to receive support from friends and family.

  • Sense of Humour: Children/young people are able to laugh at certain difficulties.

  • Perspective: Resilient people are able to learn from their mistakes (rather than deny them), see obstacles as challenges, and allow adversity to make them stronger. Children/young people can find meaning when faced with adverse situations rather than seeing themselves as victims.

How can practitioners/parents/carers help children/young people to develop the characteristics of resilience?

The training day will look at how the resilience factors listed above can be developed in children/young people. As an example: How can optimism be developed in a child who may have a pessimistic outlook on things (eg. Glass is half empty over glass is half full)?

Developing optimism in children/young people

1 Help Them Experience Success:

Children/young people develop self-esteem and optimism by experiencing success, even in the face of some challenges. So, starting young, let your child do things for themselves (with you in a supporting role rather than doing for them), and acknowledge their success. For example, even if it takes more work on your part, allow small children to take on household responsibilities like sorting socks, putting their toys away, etc., and acknowledge their efforts.

2 Give Credit For Success:

When your child/young person faces a success, help them see how they contributed to it, and acknowledge those actions. For example, “You did really well on your test; or “You’re a hard worker to have been so prepared!”

You should not need to tell them something’s great when it isn’t (children can sense false praise), but giving them credit for their own accomplishments builds self-efficacy and contributes to optimism.

3 Look For Future Success:

When dealing with successes, focus on what characteristics in the child made the success possible, and examine other successes that can come from these strengths.

If a child has performed well ina piece of work, you may mention that the strong work ethic and intelligence that went into the successful test can help them reach other goals in life. 

4 Don’t Praise Indiscriminately:

Telling a child /young person that everything they do is great—rather than helping them experience real successes and persistance in the face of reasonable obstacles—puts the child at a disadvantage, creating an overly strong self-focus around “me, myself and I”.

Validate success, but also acknowledge when their efforts aren’t successful as well. Children learn to see through empty praise.

5 Validate & Question:

When a child/young person faces failure or negative situations, discuss your child’s feelings. Ask questions that can cause them to see things more optimistically. For example, if another child doesn’t want to play with them, talk about their hurt feelings and let them express themselves. Then ask them about any situations they have been in where they have not wanted to play with their friends in the past. This helps them process (rather than deny) their emotions, but puts the situation in perspective.

6 Remember Success in the Face of Failure:

When things go wrong, acknowledge your child’s feelings, but also help them focus on other successes children/young people may have had.

Look at how things can go better in the future or under different circumstances, and move on. For example, “I see you feel disappointed in how you played today. Maybe you’re having an ‘off’ day. You usually do better, and I’m sure you’ll do great next time.” And then get involved in another activity, or practice for future success.

7 Look for “Opportunities to Improve”:

While it does instil optimism to look at external circumstances that may have contributed to things going awry, it’s important to also assess what a child/young person can personally do in the future to do better next time. Just approach it as ‘looking for opportunities to improve’ rather than a self-blame session for the child/young person.

8 Look For The Bright Side:

Help the child/young person see that there is good and bad in every situation, and make a game of looking for the silver linings in seemingly negative situations. For example, if your child can’t play outside because it’s raining, look at the positives of indoor play, or project what success may come from having extra time to study. Even a broken leg can bring the fun of having friends sign the cast! The game can get silly, and that’s okay, but it’s a good practice to get into.

9 Don’t Use Negative Labels:

Correct unacceptable behaviour, but don’t label children/young people with negative labels! Children tend to live up—or down—to our expectations, so if you say, “Jim’s a moaner,” or “Lettitia’s a shy child,” what may have been a passing phase becomes a more permanent identity. This is much more damaging to a child’s self-concept than many people realise, and it perpetuates the very behaviour you find so objectionable!

10 Make an Example of Yourself:

Children/young people watch us and see us as constant examples, whether we like it or not. The good news about this is that we can teach by doing. Practice optimistic thinking yourself. When you achieve success, don’t downplay it with false modesty, but give yourself credit for a job well done. When things go wrong, don’t over dramatise; put things in perspective.

Resilience and Education Performance

The following research published in 2011 highlights a possible concern around the resilience of children in England.

Against the Odds Disadvantaged Students Who Succeed in School (OECD)

The UK performs poorly in an international league table showing how many disadvantaged pupils succeed "against the odds" at school.

The study from the international economic organisation looks at whether there is an inevitable link between disadvantaged backgrounds and a cycle of poor school results and limited job prospects.

The OECD study says that this is not the case for many pupils from poor homes - with an international average of 31% secondary school pupils succeeding even though the "odds are stacked against them".

These are described as "resilient" pupils, who achieve high standards of attainment by international standards, despite coming from a background that was poor relative to their own country. It shows that there are wide differences in the levels of resilience.

The top five places overall are taken by regional or national school systems in Asia.

The United States, France and Australia are around the average for pupils succeeding against the odds.

But the UK is well below average and at the lower end of this ranking of resilience, with only 24% showing such examples of "resilience".

Among leading economies, the UK is in 28th place out of 35. Among a wider range of smaller countries and regions, the UK is in 35th place out of 65.

Researchers identified a number of factors which appeared to increase the likelihood of pupils' resilience.

These are a sense of self-confidence among pupils. Believing that they are likely to succeed in exams is an important part of how they actually perform. The study argues that mentoring schemes can be particularly beneficial.

In UK schools, researchers found low levels of self-confidence among disadvantaged pupils, when asked about their approach to a science topic.

It is also says that motivation is important - but in the form of a "personal, internal drive" rather than the promise of a reward or an incentive.

"All of these findings suggest that schools may have an important role to play in fostering resilience," says the report.

"They could start by providing more opportunities for disadvantaged students to learn in class by developing activities, classroom practices and teaching methods that encourage learning and foster motivation and self-confidence among those students."