Developing Resilient Children by Robin Wilkins, Puriri Teacher

Lately, I have had a number of parents express concerns about their child’s social and emotional competence. So I decided to do some research to assist in how we can develop resilient children.

At the turn of the 20th century Montessori called for a revolution in society’s approach to human development. She developed a precise, scientifically based theory that has stood the test of time, decade after decade.

In this millennium however, we are faced with a number of issues that Dr Montessori could not have predicted. Students are influenced by technology. Some suffer from medical issues around food. Others have learning difficulties that can be difficult to understand and deal with.

Nonetheless Dr Montessori’s directive that adults respond to the ‘internal needs of a life in the process of development’ still remains clear.

Children need the emotional safety provided by an environment built upon support, nurturing, consideration, mutual contribution, a sense of belonging, protection, acceptance, encouragement and understanding.

Emotional safety and the ability to learn have been correlated in contemporary education and brain research. This research has shown that the emotional centre of the brain is so powerful that negative emotions such as hostility, anger, fear and anxiety automatically “downshift” the brain to basic survival thinking. Under such stress the reasoning centre of the brain shuts down. In the presence of strong negative emotions, hormones are secreted in preparation for fight or flight. Fear limits perception, communication and learning.

So, What is Resilience?

Research maintains it to be the capacity of a child to deal effectively with stress and pressure, to cope with everyday challenges, to rebound from mistakes, disappointments, trauma and adversity, to develop clear and realistic goals, to solve problems, to interact comfortably with others and to treat oneself and others with respect and dignity.

Research also maintains that ‘resilient children’ possess certain qualities and/or ways of viewing themselves and the world that are not apparent in children who have been unsuccessful in meeting challenges and pressures. It suggests some ‘guideposts’ that form the foundation of a resilient mind-set.

Being Empathic is a critical factor in developing resilience. Children will develop empathy more easily when they interact with adults who model it daily, even though there may be times when it is difficult for us to show empathy if we are upset, angry or disappointed with our children. In a relationship of adult to child empathy is placing ourselves inside the shoes of the child and seeing the world through his/her eyes. It does not imply that we agree with what they do, but is an attempt to appreciate and validate their point of view.

Communicating Effectively and Listening Actively. Communication is an umbrella that affects all that goes on between human beings. Resilient children demonstrate a capacity to communicate their feelings and thoughts effectively and the adults in their world serve as important role models in the process. How we communicate our needs and listen to the needs of others determines whether needs are likely to be met. It is not only how we speak with another person, but involves actively listening, understanding and validating what they are saying.

In modelling these traits we are helping our children develop resilience – an vital quality for facing the ever changing world of their future.