Teaching Resilience to Kids

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Resilience is one of the characteristics that helps most with success and happiness in life. This lesson will give you some ideas about how you can teach your students to develop resilience.

What is Resilience, and Why Should You Teach It?

Resilience is the ability to overcome or recover from life's difficulties. Resilience is very important because it is impossible to get through life without facing challenges. A resilient person faces just as many difficulties as any other person but is equipped to recover, work through whatever the difficulties are, and move on.

Some children are naturally more resilient than others, and some have families that emphasize resilience more than others. Regardless, children benefit from chances to learn about resilience in the school environment. By teaching resilience to your students, you are preparing them to survive and thrive in a rich, complicated, interrelated world. You are giving them strategies that they can use throughout the lifespan to face up to challenges and fulfill their own human potentials.

Using Role Plays to Teach Resilience

Meet Joachim. Joachim is a popular fifth grader who has always done well in school and is kind to his friends. He is often the first one selected as a partner, and he participates actively in class activities and discussions. Lately, though, Joachim's teacher has noticed that Joachim comes in from recess looking very distraught. Upon further investigation, Ms. Sprenkle learns that Joachim isn't as fast as his peers on the field and keeps losing the different athletic competitions the students have been playing.

Because Joachim has typically been successful in so many endeavors, he hasn't had a chance to develop much resilience. Therefore, finding himself not at the top of this particular situation is making him feel far worse than it should. In fact, he is so upset that he has trouble focusing in the afternoons.

Ms. Sprenkle realizes that a lot of her students, including Joachim, might benefit from role plays to teach resilience. She breaks students into small groups and has them write out scenarios in which one character faces a challenge. Every morning for the next few weeks, Ms. Sprenkle chooses a scenario from the class supply and has a group of students act it out. She then gives the class a chance to discuss different possible outcomes for the scenario. Joachim benefits from seeing his classmates' ideas about how they deal with challenging situations.

One day, Joachim comes in from recess looking a bit happier. Ms. Sprenkle asks if he won a race that day, and Joachim explains that he lost badly, but he thought about the role plays and decided to use a classmate's idea of laughing it off. He feels calm and ready to approach the afternoon with his usual gusto.

Resilience in Staying With Hard Feelings

Not everyone's struggles with resilience are as straightforward as Joachim's. Liliana is another student in Ms. Sprenkle's fifth grade. Liliana's grandmother died at the beginning of the school year, and Liliana and her parents were all devastated. The grandmother was a bedrock in their family and very close to her granddaughter. Liliana has been withdrawn and disengaged. She never participates, acts depressed, and does not want to talk with her friends. Ms. Sprenkle tries to cheer her up, get her excited about school and involve her in the social world, but Liliana remains disinterested.

Ms. Sprenkle talks to the school social worker about Liliana's troubles, and the social worker reminds Ms. Sprenkle that sometimes resilience can be found in staying with hard feelings. It is so natural to be sad and confused when tremendous loss occurs, and resilience does not always mean quickly cheering up and moving on.

Instead, the social worker suggests that Ms. Sprenkle honor Liliana's sadness and give her some language to describe how she feels. Liliana learns to say she is feeling sad, worried, frightened and lonely. She begins writing stories about her grandmother and talking openly about how much she misses her. For Liliana, resilience is found in communicating her despair; by doing this, she is able to slowly reconnect with the world around her.

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