Can you bounce back from difficult times? Do you consider yourself able to make changes easily? Are you flexible, creative, and adaptive? Is self-motivated a term you would use to describe yourself? Do you come back even stronger and better when you have a big challenge?
If so, you are resilient and demonstrate positive mental health. Being resilient is important to being happy and successful in the ever changing world today.
Those who are not resilient may become frustrated or angry more quickly. They may blame others for their difficulties, or continue to suffer from a crisis long after it has passed. Non-resilient people may feel helpless or hopeless and have difficulty facing a typical day, much less a challenging one.
This is true for children, as well as for adults. Families and caregivers can help children develop resiliency skills. The early care and education setting offers many opportunities to develop and reinforce resiliency in young children.
The Resiliency Paradox
Think about your own situation. Employers seek workers who can do more than just follow directions.
While getting along with others and respecting your supervisor is expected, an employee who sits passively and waits to be told what to do is not contributing as much to the workplace as a positive, self-motivated worker who takes responsibility, is creative, and can solve problems.
Yet, many times the expectations for young children are to sit passively and wait to be told what to do. Activities for young children can sometimes discourage the very things that mentally healthy adults exhibit.
How will children grow up to be resilient when it is discouraged through a structured environment that requires obedience over creativity? Where is the balance between safety and exploration?
Working on Resiliency
How can you help children become healthy resilient adults? First, you must work on your own positive mental health so that you can serve as a role model for children and facilitate each childs positive development.
According to the American Psychological Associations Help Center, one who is resilient still feels distress, pain, and suffering, but has (or learns) coping skills to move through the difficult times. The Mayo Clinic advises that resilience is not about ignoring your pain or toughing it out, but is about accessing resources to help you through challenging times and learning from the situation.
This forward and positive movement can be very hard work for some people and should not be seen as easy just because others are successful. Adults are encouraged to continue their own development by checking out resources and practicing skills.
Some children are at greater risk than others, which makes developing resiliency a bigger challenge for them. Risk factors for children include but are not limited to poverty, stress, poor medical care, violence, abuse, and lack of support. Some risk factors exist in society, others stem from the immediate family environment, and still others come from within the child.
Reducing risk factors helps to increase protective factors that contribute to resiliency. Protective factors also are based on society and the family, as well as on the child.
For example, the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) program evaluates a childs initiative, self-control, and attachment, as these are viewed as essential for the development of resilience. Initiative helps a child be able to think, make decisions and problem solve. Self-control means the child experiences a range of emotions, but expresses the emotions in appropriate ways.
Attachment suggests mutual and positive relationships with others they can trust and depend upon consistently. Children need to know they have someone trustworthy and caring in their daily lives.
Creating A Supportive Learning Environment
To help facilitate a strong attachment between the childcare provider and the child, staff scheduling should allow for consistency. As much as possible, the same adult should remain with a child throughout much of the each day. Schedules that have adults moving in and out of a childs daily schedule are disruptive, not conducive to relationship building, and may encourage misbehavior.
Many early care and education programs now allow children to stay with the same adults year after year. The caregiver must learn how to provide appropriate care for children as they grow and develop instead of continuing to only care for children in one specific age range.
Family friendly environments also are supportive of childrens healthy growth and development. Some children do not have much time with their parents or guardians due to multiple jobs, split households, or other issues. Welcoming parents and guardians into the program to eat a meal with their child, read a story to a small group of children, or share a tradition with the group supports the most important relationship they will ever have.
Making the space cozy and inviting is important. Consider how to make the environment feel more like a home. Placing materials so they are easily accessible to children makes it their space.
Supportive Curriculum Activities
Appropriate curricula for children should be selected and utilized in partnership with parents and community partners. The DECA program includes assessment and individualized curriculum activities to support children in developing positive social and emotional health.
Protective factors can be increased through appropriate curricula that supports social and emotional development, quality early childhood programs, collaboration with mental health professionals, and involvement of families.
Look for ideas to help children learn how to be self-motivated, solve problems, share feelings appropriately, and build relationships. Read childrens books that may build skills, such as The Little Engine that Could (Piper), Glad Monster, Sad Monster (Miranda and Emberley), and The Rainbow Fish (Pfister).
Help children develop vocabulary so that they can use words to express themselves with words rather than physical aggression. Language development is closely associated with building social and emotional health.
It is vital that children see the adults in their lives model resilient behaviors. Children depend on adults to help them overcome risk factors by increasing their protective factors, creating a positive and supportive learning environment, and exposing them to appropriate curriculum activities to help build their initiative, self-control, and attachment.
Connie Jo Smith, EdD
Assistant Professor, Consumer and Family Sciences Department, Western Kentucky University
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is a national resource center that disseminates research and evidence-based practices to early childhood programs to help support the social and emotional development of children birth to five. www.vanderbilt.edu/csefel/practicalstrategies.html
The Devereux Early Childhood Initiative, research on resiliency, free parent handouts, sample preschool activities, training opportunities, songs of resilience, preview video, and products. www.devereux.org/site/PageServer?pagename=deci_index
Resilience: Build skills to endure hardship, Mayo Clinic, includes a self inventory, tips, and an article. www.mayoclinic.com/health/resilience/MH00078