Resilience for children: what it means, why it’s important and a guide to the hallmarks and risk factors
Ahead of her appearance at our Annual Children’s Mental Health Conference 2019 (5th June, Glasgow), we’ve adapted a piece by Dr Tina Rae, from Teaching Times’ Every Child Journal, on the subject of resilience. This is one of the topics she’ll cover at the conference (which also features Prof Barry Carpenter and more) – sign up today! This is part one – parts two and three of the piece will appear in the coming weeks…
The importance of creating a resilient staff team and a whole-school approach based in the philosophy and approaches emanating from positive psychology is presented as are some key tools and evidence-based approaches which can help us to meet such an objective.
The Department for Education and the Mental Health Foundation define a mentally healthy child as one who can:
- develop psychologically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually;
- initiate, develop and sustain mutually satisfying personal relationships;
- use and enjoy solitude;
- become aware of others and empathise with them;
- play and learn;
- develop a sense of right and wrong;
- face problems and setbacks and learn from them.
This list is further built upon by Helpguide, the non-profit website health guide, to include a sense of wellbeing and contentment, a zest for living, resilience (the ability to “bounce back”) and creative as well as intellectual development.
On initial reading, this list may appear somewhat simplistic. However, once we begin to reflect upon our own lives and relate these descriptors to young people in schools, it is possible to see how it can provide an initial starting point for identifying problems and difficulties. As Mark Prever states in his book, “They are useful indicators when we consider their opposites – an activity that way gives us some insight into the meaning of mental health problems and mental illness.”
The Office for National Statistics noted that over ten per cent of children aged between five and 15 years are affected by a mental health problem and that this figure rises to 11.2 per cent for students of statutory secondary school age. This means that the average secondary school of 1000 pupils will have:
- 50 students with depression;
- 10 affected by eating disorders;
- 100 suffering/experiencing significant distress;
- 10-20 students with obsessive compulsive disorder;
- 5-10 attempting suicide.
As Prever suggests, “This, then, is the task faced by schools. Wherever possible, we need to find ways to prevent these problems in young people from developing. We need to act early with our own school-based support systems and refer on to – and work directly with – mental health professionals where this is felt necessary and desirable.”
Teachers and those who work with young people in schools can and do successfully prevent the escalation of mental health problems in their students by understanding more about protective factors and ensuring that they are promoted at an individual, group and systems-level across the whole-school community. This, in turn, can then support systems and approaches at both individual and group levels to build resilience and overall wellbeing.
What do we mean by resilience?
Resilience is about “bouncing back” from what life throws at us. It is about being strong inside and able to adapt well to changes and difficulties. It is about flourishing in life, despite our circumstances.
If children are resilient, they will be able to cope better with problems, they will have better health and they will be happier and more fulfilled. They will also be less likely to develop emotional problems like depression or anxiety.
But resilience is not just something you have or don’t have. The important truth is that we can help all children to become more resilient. We can’t protect children from all the things that may cause them distress throughout their lives. But we can help children become more resilient so that they are more able to cope with life’s uncertainties and problems. And all children, no matter what their background, will have to face problems and changes in their lives. So our support is really important in helping children become more resilient.