Building Resilience in Our Children

Building Resilience in Our Children

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, top infectious disease experts are warning Americans to steel themselves for a challenging spring.

“We’re going to be seeing some serious things that the American public unfortunately is going to have to get used to seeing,” Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House Coronavirus Task Force commented on March 31. “What we’re doing with the mitigation is to try and blunt that, but no matter what we do – even with the positive effects that we’re seeing with the mitigation – it’s going to be a tough couple of weeks coming up.”

With such warnings as the backdrop, we are already facing a variety of circumstances that can affect our students’ learning:

Many families, some of whom are already in their third week of stay-at-home restrictions, are already feeling the stress of being cooped up at home. At least one political leader, California Governor Gavin Newsom, has expressed concern that people will grow tired from obeying social distancing guidelines, which could ultimately extend the life of the pandemic.

Parents are experiencing the stress of being stretched between supervising their children’s learning and working from home. Routines, which are important to all of us, have had to be rewritten.

Many parents are concerned about paying their families’ grocery bills and mortgage or rent payments. Two in 10 Americans, according to a CNN poll, have been temporarily furloughed or suspended while almost as many say their employers have shut down their place of work entirely.

The likelihood of tens of thousands of deaths from COVID 19 – potentially considerably more – has shaken many of us. The pandemic will assuredly impact many families of educators and students across the nation.

Finally, fears are especially heightened in families with parents who are first responders and work in health care.

As the pandemic has greater and greater impact, it will be more important than ever for teachers and parents to support the growth of children’s resilience.  The American Psychological Association has identified ten tips for building resilience in children and teens.  Four of those tips, discussed below, are especially relevant during the pandemic:

Make connections. As the APA notes, “Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resilience.” In these days of social distancing, teachers might assign “homework buddies” and require students to use FaceTime, a teleconferencing app, or just a phone call to talk about an assignment.  Teachers could provide some structure for these contacts by providing a list of question prompts to guide the conversation. Teachers may need to make a special effort to support students in their classes who aren’t as well-connected with their peers.

Help children by having them help others. “Brainstorm with children about ways they can help others,” the APA recommends. During physical distancing this may be more challenging, but there may still be ways to help. Elementary students might send homemade cards to older relatives who might be socially isolated. High school students could chat with elders via phone or video and ask them questions related to a school assignment. Older students could also research charities that are doing important work during the pandemic and, with their parents’ permission, share what they’ve learned via social media.

Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook. “An optimistic and positive outlook enables your child to see the good things in life and keep going even in the hardest times,” notes the APA.  Expressing thanks,” the Harvard Mental Health Letter reminds us,  may be one of the simplest ways to feel better.Psychologist Martin Seligman, a leader in positive psychology research, found that writing and personally delivering a letter of gratitude to someone who had not been properly thanked for his or her kindness can increase the author’s happiness. While personal delivery isn’t a recommended practice at the moment, it’s possible that mailing the note and following up with a FaceTime or Skype call might have the same impact. This is a great practice for both children and adults.

Teach children self-care. Teachers could create lessons that addresses the importance of eating properly, exercising and getting good sleep.  These lessons could include some simple ideas for exercising at home. Parents and teachers should encourage students to find a balance between their virtual school day and time for fun and rest.

Through approaches like these, the APA insists, “resilience skills can be learned.”

In these challenging times, we can take confidence in the amazing adaptability of the human brain. We know that children with the support of parents,  teachers, and other significant adults in their lives, have tremendous potential for growth.

“Resilience is shaped throughout life by the accumulation of experiences – both good and bad – and the continuing development of adaptive coping skills connected to those experiences,” the Harvard Center on the Developing Child notes. “What happens early [in a child’s life] may matter most, but it is never too late to build resilience.”

Copyright Tim Matheney, 2020