There are events that can happen in our lives that make our world feel like a scary place. This can be especially true for our younger generation, who may feel that these situations often happen as a result of others’ choices. Life can begin to feel overwhelming, and stressed brains cannot learn. This is why understanding resilience, and the profound impact it has on how children deal with both current and future adversity, is essential for enhancing educational outcomes and social and emotional learning.
Resilience is the capacity to prepare for, adapt to, and grow through adversity. It can boost a person’s ability to adapt to temporary adversity or ongoing situations that cannot be resolved quickly. For example, children who are experiencing a high level of family dysfunction might need to adapt on a regular basis to conditions in their lives that they don’t have control over. With resilience building, these children can feel like they have some control over how they respond and adapt to their situation, even when they lack a sense of control over the situation itself.
Resilience not only increases a person’s ability to recover from a negative event, but it also can help improve one’s perspective of negative events and the ability to better deal with them from the beginning. The shift toward a more empowered and positive perspective can set up an individual for less stress and better coping when bad things happen.
Low resilience can contribute to chronic and ongoing social, emotional, and health-related problems that show up in a child’s school or social outcomes. Youth with low resilience often show poor behavioral control and social skills. They are less likely to graduate high school on time. Resilience is linked with higher GPA and school attendance, in addition to better self-concept and clear educational aspirations. Helping students grow resilience will not only positively impact performance but also health and quality of life. It is something that can benefit every school community!
Fortunately, human beings are hardwired for resilience. It is part of our inherent capacity to survive, adapt, and evolve. Beyond this drive, resilience can be nurtured, cultivated, and grown, both on a proactive basis and in response to specific adverse experiences.
At its foundation, resilience is about helping us meet our core needs. What are these human needs that we all share? We need a sense of safety, connection, purpose, and competence. We all need to feel physically and emotionally safe. We need to feel accepted by our tribe. We need to matter and make a meaningful contribution to others. And we need to feel that we have some control over what we do and that others see us as being good at something that is important to us.
Despite the common belief that resilience is about “grit” and being able to push through adversity, research suggests that there are other components even more important than our passion or ability to persevere through hardship. The science of resilience shows that it is essential to focus on two key issues: relationships and resources.
First, as social beings, human resilience is best cultivated in community with others. In the context of online or blended learning environments, we need to be even more intentional about prioritizing relationships and ensuring that we are seeking to meet each student’s basic human needs.
Second, individuals who have access to resources and feel comfortable seeking out and using them will be more resilient. While it’s important to teach coping and resilience skills, students will be much more likely to learn and use these skills once their basic needs are met and they are in a place of being emotionally regulated, calm, and centered—a great by-product from social and emotional learning.
As much as we would like to protect our children from stressful events or loss, this simply is not a part of the human experience. We all will face various levels of disruption, change, trauma, and loss in our lives. The wiser path is to help our children prepare for these experiences. The good news is that we can help our children build resources; strengthen relationships; learn mindsets; and engage in practices that increase the chances of moving through whatever life brings with less struggle, greater strength, and more meaning.
In the next article in this series, we will explore the starting point for youth resilience and the most important intervention. Simply put: It’s you! This is why we focus on helping the helpers. For more immediate resources, visit the National Resilience Institute at www.nationalresilienceinstitute.org.