Since the pandemic it has become evident that students around the nation and globally have struggled to cope with the changes. The biggest issue that teachers have reported in classrooms from the beginning of this year is that students are less settled, more distractible and appear less resilient than in the past.
Educators and parents need to understand how to build resilience in children and how to detect when resilience is low. Before they can do this, here are some factors to understand.
Adaptability is a reference to a person’s capacity to cope with change. In education, adaptability is evident when children move between activities smoothly, when they handle transitions, when they do not get stressed in the face of unexpected events, and when they have a general robustness to the way they handle a variety of different types of challenges.
It is common for most people to grumble or complain when there is change. This is generally a normal response. However, if this then leads to resistance to change, there may be an issue with resilience. When students are too focused on the familiar it becomes harder to negotiate what is unfamiliar or uncertain. As an outcome of education, all children should be able to face and embrace a level of uncertainty and be able to manage or cope with that. This means they are adaptable.
Adaptability does not mean accepting every change as being inevitable, or even accepting everything that happens. There can be things that occur that must be resisted. It is also appropriate to question whether all change is needed.
If changes are necessary, then one way to build resilience is to encourage students to shape their own environment when accommodating the change. One evidence of resilience is how well people take control of the things they can change in their accommodation of the circumstances. It is therefore extremely important to encourage personal power in students. Students should be encouraged to problem solve and to ask themselves, “What are the issues I see before me and what can I do about it?”
Time and routines
A second characteristic of those who are resilient is the capacity to use time well and to bring a sense of order to what they do. This means that people who have good structures, systems and processes tend to be able to accommodate change better than others. It is therefore important for educators and parents to encourage good habits in children. Good habits are evidenced by productive and settled routines around reading, exercise, hobbies and recreational time and study time.
A third characteristic of resilience is the capacity for students to think independently about what is happening, and about what they can do to manage or adapt. Empowering students to critique situations helps them to see patterns. It also helps students to realise they have a lot more control over their activities and routines than they realise. In this way students can be encouraged to see the opportunities when presented with challenges.
How to undermine resilience
Resilience does not come about when students are told to be strong. It does not come about from being stoic and silent. It does not come about by ignoring the obvious feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that occur around change.
Resilience is also not evidenced when people need continual change and cannot settle or be still for any length of time. Some people characterise themselves as being very adaptable whereas they always seem to be running away from things and never still enough to feel the effect of any decisions they’ve made.
Consequently, a balance between adaptation and being still is appropriate.
Educators and parents have had to cope with change in recent months that was not expected. Whether they like it or not, how they managed the past two years has contributed to the restlessness we see in children now.
Therefore, if we want our children to be resilient then we need to start role modelling the strategies and the attitudes that are most productive.