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Building Resilience in Children

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

By Jaime Abrahams - Intern Educational Psychologist


Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. It is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. We cannot prevent our children from facing challenges in life. We can however teach them skills so that obstacles are not able to break them. In other words, we can build their resilience and this is possible to nurture in all children. Resilience is important for children’s mental health. Children with greater resilience are better able to manage stress.

Resilience and what happens in the brain

During times of stress our bodies go through changes in order to help us adapt and deal with the environment. For example, our heart rates increase, blood pressure goes up and adrenaline is secreted all of which is excellent for the short term. However, when stress is continuous, these changes in the body remain activated. Over a long period of time these changes can weaken the immune system, body and brain. Stress can also cause the prefrontal cortex, which is our decision-making part of the brain, to shut down. This again is good at times but not over a prolonged period. Resilience is related to the capacity to activate the prefrontal cortex and in doing this, calming down the physical responses in the body to stress. When this is achieved the ability to recover, adapt to or find solutions are enhanced.

How do we build resilience?

Developing children into well adapted individuals is not about completely removing any form of difficulties, but about strengthening them and equipping them with strategies to deal with distressing times. Some tips on how to do this include:

1. Build supportive relationships

It is vital to build, strengthen and promote supportive relationships. Even the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship could lead a child through stressful times. It is important to spend quality time with your child.

2. Social support

Social support is associated with higher positive emotions, self-esteem, motivation and resilience. Let your child know that people support them. Building connections between them and others who love them will help strengthen them.

3. Let them know it’s okay to ask for help

Let children know that being brave entails asking for help at times. It is important to guide children instead of carrying them.

4. Build executive functioning

The prefrontal cortex will be strengthened by strengthening higher order thought processes. This then helps the child manage their behavior and feelings and increase their capacity to develop coping strategies. Ways to do this include:

  • Having routines

  • Modelling healthy behavior

  • Establishing supportive relationships around them

  • Creative play

  • Board games

  • Memory games

  • Exercise

  • Opportunities to think and act independently

5. Focus on managing emotions

Help children learn how to identify, express and manage emotions. Allow your children to talk and encourage them to talk about their feelings. Acknowledge when your child is distressed.

6. Build confidence

Create opportunities which challenge them and assist in teaching them how to deal with obstacles, success and failure.

7. LET THEM KNOW THEY ARE LOVED


The knowledge of knowing that they are loved give children a solid foundation and gives them a place to go to when things feel as though they are falling apart. Once this is established they will learn that they are able to provide this solid foundation for themselves by believing in themselves. Belief in ones’ self is a large part of resilience.

Building Resilience in Schools

There are many strategies which schools could put in place in order to enhance resilience. Resilience in school’s fosters learning and wellbeing of children. Some strategies include:

  1. Providing a safe and supportive learning environment which help build connectedness

  2. Effective classroom management

  3. Effective teaching methods

  4. Promotion of positive teacher-student relationships which enhance academic and social development

  5. Promotion of positive peer relationships

  6. Provision of social and emotional skills programs

  7. Involve both students and their families in decision making

Resilient children are healthier, happier and more successful at school. Resilient children grow up to be resilient adults who have a positive self-esteem and are able to regulate their emotions and in doing so live a well-balance life. If you have any questions about wanting to foster resilience in your child please contact the Johannesburg Parent and Child Counselling Centre.

#resilience #children #schools #support #parenting #development

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