The Science Bit:
The stress response in humans is initiated by the amygdala, this is the part of the brain responsible for our instinctive and impulsive responses. Stressful situations and circumstances can cause the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain to temporarily shut down. The prefrontal cortex is the control tower of the brain. It is responsible for sustaining attention on a task, initiating problem-solving activities, controlling impulses, and regulating emotion. Sometimes not having too much involvement from the prefrontal cortex can be a good thing. Times when we can rely on our instincts to choose the right path. Then there are the other times. The occasions when we need to assert control to successfully navigate a challenge.
Resilience is having the capacity to access the prefrontal cortex and calm the amygdala.
Developing resilience when it comes to school work can start from a very young age and should not be the preserve of older children.
It begins with the understanding that some things will be hard to achieve and that difficult situations are not to be avoided. Children should be allowed to acknowledge their strengths, their effort and their bravery. When children do encounter a challenge, practice the art of ‘reframing’. This involves looking at a problem from a different angle so that they might be able to identify the opportunities, rather than problems, this new challenge has brought them.
Nurturing a growth mindset when it comes to academic work can be immensely valuable. Growth mindset culture is deeply rooted in language, instilling a culture and ethos where children are equipped with the vocabulary that allows them to change their mind and alter their viewpoint.
Emotional resilience is not about being tough, but more to do with outlook and attitude. It is also intrinsically linked to how children perceive themselves against their peers. It is entirely possible to be deeply sensitive and emotional but remain unaffected by the actions of others. Likewise, it is possible to be outgoing and seemingly confident but inwardly vulnerable to the smallest of comments from classmates.
Finding ways to encourage a strong sense of self can be crucial to this idea of resilience. If a child is secure with their own identity and possesses a solid support system, they are less likely to be affected by the opinions of others.
Foster happiness, or more specifically, optimism. This has been found to be one of the key characteristics of those displaying high levels of resilience. If you are more inclined to look for the positives in a challenging situation, altering your approach with a view to success, it can lead to a more triumphant outcome.
Risk taking is the act or fact of doing something that involves danger or risk in order to achieve a goal
The traditional school prospectus picture of risk-taking typically involves children clambering on logs, and rightly so. Risk taking should start young and often the outdoor environment can be a great place for this to be nurtured. However, the mistake that is often made is that the lessons learnt in this outdoor environment are not made explicit enough to carry through to academic situations.
It’s a school’s responsibility to provide an environment, both inside and out, where the children feel safe enough to take risks. As with resilience, so much of developing a risk-taking attitude centres around the appropriate use of language.
Problem solving is a creative process. Anything that strengthens a child’s thinking skills will nurture their resilience.
2. The language of problem-solving
Self-talk is such an important part of problem-solving. Teacher’s words are powerful because they are the foundation upon which children build their own self-talk. Rather than solving the problems for them, start to give them the language to solve their own.
3. Don’t rush to the rescue.
Exposure to stresses and challenges during childhood will help to ensure that they are more able to deal with stress during adulthood. There is strong evidence that these early experiences cause positive changes in the prefrontal cortex that will protect against the negative effects of future stress.
4. Be Scared
Facing fear can be stimulating. Overcoming fear is empowering. (Providing that suitable coping strategies are securely in place.)
5. Safe and considered risks
Age-appropriate freedom lets children learn where the boundaries lie, it encourages them to think about their decisions and teaches them that they can cope with situations that go wrong.
6. Be a model
Imitation is a powerful way to learn. The small humans in your life will want to be just like you, and they’ll be watching everything. Let them see how you deal with disappointment, and allow them to share in the jubilation of your success.