Connecting with children and helping to build resilience


The longer I teach, and the older my children become, the more I ask myself … have I helped to make them resilient? … have I made them resilient enough to cope with friendships, relationships, careers, lack of money, too much money, lonely times, good times, drugs, alcohol, and environmental changes to our world? (to mention just a few of life’s vagaries!)

Can they bounce back from the inevitable ups and downs of life? 

Research projects all over the world indicate that children who succeed in life are those with a healthy self-esteem and a resilience which enables them to “bounce back” from life’s hurdles.

The five main factors related to resilience are:

• a sense of belonging
• a sense of identity
• a sense of purpose
• problem solving skills
• social competence

The need for resilience becomes crucial in upper primary and high school. Teenagers often give the impression of being confident and of rejecting the adults around them. However, this is the very time they need close and caring relationships with responsible adults who are genuinely concerned for, and love them.

In other words, the very time you feel like killing them, they actually need you to keep your head.

If high school students see teachers as fair, and feel that they are valued and respected members of the school, this provides them with a protective factor against negative outside influences. When teenagers feel confident and “know their place’ in their community, they are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours, or be influenced negatively by their peers.

Part of having confidence in your child is understanding when to take a deep breath and let them get on with it. Have faith in their ability to work out problems (while being ready with a listening ear when things do go wrong.) After all, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. 

Connecting with children

A very big factor in resilience is the feeling of belonging. Children who understand they are an important part of their family and of a wider group of extended family, friends and the community have a much greater chance of becoming resilient. Children need to be connected with other children and adults … and not always or only through technology! 

Last week I helped supervise a stretch bus full of students coming back from a swimming carnival. One of the older boys pulled out his headphones, turned on his IPod, put his head back against the window and fell asleep. I breathed a sigh of relief. All headsets are generally banned at school, but I decided to turn a blind eye because this particular boy could be poking and prodding fellow students and annoying teachers all the way back to school if he didn’t have the head phones in his ears.

Yes, I took the path of least resistance. Sometimes as a teacher and a parent, there is a case to be made for the path of least resistance, but not all the time.

DEM (Digital Electronic Media) such as computers, smartboards, DVDs, internet, mobile phones, Ipods, PS3s, Nintendo Wii, laptops are now common place in homes and schools.

While I love the convenience and fun of technology, and I don’t want to go back to the “old days” I do think we have to balance the benefits of technology with reading, talking and listening to children. 

Unfortunately, the same technology that enriches our lives, can, quite unconsciously, allow us to become distant from children. It is easy to “plug” them into a DVD, TV/computer program. By doing this a child can be left alone in a house or room unsupervised and more importantly without interaction with people. When children interact with people they learn how to socialise, make and listen to conversation, share, co-operate, have friends, and later partners. 

All these aspects are important for their emotional and mental well being.

A recent UK study showed that one third of young children in the survey had a bedtime story at night, as opposed to three quarters of the children a generation before them. 

Story reading, story telling and conversation, at school and at home, have a host of wonderful side effects. They can help build a child’s listening skills and attention span, aid imagination, teach about family history and about life in general. Most important of all, for a child, the simple act of listening to a story with an adult who loves and cares for him, fosters emotional security, builds up the bonds between child and adult. The child is safe to go into the world knowing she is cared for and loved.

by Geraldine Mackey