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Adapted from Growing Up Resilient: Ways to Build Resilience in Children and Youth (© 2007)

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficulties or change—to function as well as before and then move forward. Many people refer to this as "bouncing back" from difficulties or challenges.

People who are resilient can effectively cope with, or adapt to, stress and challenging life situations. They learn from the experience of being able to effectively manage in one situation, making them better able to cope with stresses and challenges in future situations. In other words, dealing with challenges can make us grow and can make us stronger. Rather than merely bouncing back, we're better prepared than we were before to face challenges that lie ahead.

How can we build resilience in children?

Resilient children can be encouraged to become more resilient. And children who seem to have less resilience can be helped to develop it.

There are many ways to promote resilience. You can use the following tips to create and build protective factors and strengths that will enhance the resilience of the children you teach or interact with.

Strengthening personal skills

  • Help students be more aware of how their feelings affect their social and emotional development. For example, structure lessons to help students learn about feelings: what evokes them and how feelings affect relationships with others. To develop this skill, ask students to include descriptions of emotions in their essays and journals: people who are positive, friendly and reach out to others attract more friends; people who are angry appear unfriendly or threatening, and others tend to avoid them.
  • Teach empathy by talking children through their feelings. For example, you could ask someone who has been bullying another child: "How would you feel if someone said bad things about you or did other bad things to you?"
  • Model and teach social skills that help children get along well with others.
  • Model ways to debate and solve conflicts.
  • Encourage children to take part in science fairs, chess competitions, spelling bees, sports and other activities.
  • Nurture decision-making skills by giving students opportunities to make decisions as a group. For example, students could decide where to go for a class trip. You could encourage them first to brainstorm ideas and then to consider each of the idea's pros and cons.
  • Create opportunities for students to develop a positive self-concept. For example, praise them for their accomplishments, listen attentively, take an interest in what they are doing, and let them know their contributions are valuable. This way, they develop their own sense of self rather than merely learning to act in a way that will elicit approval.
  • Help students set positive goals and maintain self-discipline to see projects through to the end.
  • Make students aware of various coping strategies. If one method doesn't work for them, help them discover that they can find something else that does. For instance, if a qualified student can't afford to go away to university, perhaps he or she could live at home and apply for a scholarship.
  • Teach students how to communicate their feelings, ideas and opinions without displaying anger or putting down others.
  • Help students to challenge or think critically about media messages and images, especially those that glamorize violence, smoking and other substance use, and unhealthy sexual behaviours; that portray unrealistic body shapes; or that stereotype or discriminate against people.

Honouring diversity

  • Encourage students to pursue activities that interest them, without concern for whether those activities are usually done by girls or boys.
  • Offer extra attention to children with learning disabilities. For example, introduce special methods and curricula into the classroom that will help them succeed.
  • Stick up for and support children who are being left out or picked on by other students or adults. (Young people who are obese or have other physical disabilities, for example, are more likely to be ostracized, making it harder for them to cope, make friends and feel confident.)
  • Show sensitivity and respect for all cultures and traditions—and teach students to do the same.
  • Educate yourself about the various groups to which Canadian children belong, particularly when you are working with children from a background you are unfamiliar with.
  • Promote acceptance and respect for all students by encouraging attitudes and behaviours free of sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice and discrimination.

Getting help

  • If a child is showing significant stress, depression or other mental health–related problems, he or she could be referred to a mental health agency where a multidisciplinary team (usually a social worker, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a nurse and possibly a special education teacher) could rule out certain problems and develop an accurate idea of the child's problem.