Encouraging Resilience

Posted: 18th January 2016

From the Counsellor’s Chair

Our School Counsellor, Mrs Renata Good, examines ‘resilience’.

‘A study by researchers from York St John University of Bath published in the journal, Personality & Social Psychology Review, concluded that perfectionists are more likely to find the workplace quite difficult and stressful. As such they are unable to cope with the demands and uncertainties in the work place, and will experience a range of emotional difficulties.

Whilst perfectionism is held up as a sign in our society of virtue or high achievement the study concluded that for organisations and individuals, ‘diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities.’ To reduce burn out, it proposed that a greater focus on balanced working lives, depressurised work environments and greater acceptance of failure could help mitigate the negative effects perfectionism.

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As young people face growing rivalry for the best university places, jobs and careers, and strive to maintain good relationships, there is more pressure on them and schools to succeed. The pressure builds, stress increases, anxiety sets as a ‘prevailing performance outcomes focus’ takes hold. It’s great to do well, to succeed, have our dreams realised. However, somewhere along the road we will meet disappointment and failure when things don’t work out as hoped for. It can be particularly painful when effort is not matched by the outcome, or circumstances beyond our control scupper endeavours.

How do we cope when things go awry? How do we manage setbacks? How do we manage with failure so it doesn’t feel like the end of the world? In this two part article, adapted in part from an article by Educational Psychologist, Dr Linda Mallory, I will be looking at building resilience in children so they don’t feel helpless in the face of adversity on their road to maturity and beyond.

Encouraging Resilience in Children

Whilst it is useful for school to facilitate resilience, fostering resilience starts much earlier. It begins with the way parents help their children make decisions and choices.

What we say and what we do when our children experience setback or make mistakes has a major impact on how they cope with challenges and can help them develop resilience. Whilst factors such as genetics, health, or temperament may pre-dispose youngsters to developing problems later in life, factors relating to beliefs about self-regulation and self-regulation skills are important psychological maintaining factors once problems have developed.

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Teach Problem Solving

Engage children in working out how they can handle challenges. Provide opportunities that enable them to think about what works and what doesn’t work. Whilst it’s tempting to do so, when parents and other adults always provide the answers this gets in the way of children being motivated to develop their own problem solving mastery. To promote problem solving it’s useful to ask, ‘how’ rather than ‘why.’ For instance if a child spills their drink, asking, ‘How are we going to clear up your drink?’ is a more strategic and powerful question compared to, ‘Why did you spill your drink?’ ‘Why?’ questions can infer blame and lead to a child feeling guilty or shame. Rather than always answering our children’s questions, respond with, ‘I’m not sure, how can we work this one out or find out?’

By asking problem solving questions we help children learn to tolerate uncertainty and think about ways to deal with real and potential challenges.

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Part 2 will be looking at further ways to foster resilience in children. Until then remember those, ‘How?’ questions.’

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