In recent days we were all witness to the general elections in one of the world’s biggest democracies. There were many cantankerous tweets from the outgoing president– an obvious sign that he was unwilling to accept defeat humbly and move on. Why was in this case, and in many others, defeat or loss difficult to accept? Why do we make excuses for situations?
As parents and educators we often get to see such reactions from young people. We need to teach them that life is not a bed of roses –there will be moments of highs, but they need to understand and appreciate that periods of lows will also come.
What is resilience? Resilience is the ability to cope either mentally or emotionally with events in our daily lives. It is our ability to bounce back after things don’t quite go the way we expected them to. Resilience and mental health are very closely related, which is even more a reason why it should be developed in young people from an early age.
In the current scenario the personal skill of resilience is even more important than before. Students and teachers have been catapulted overnight into online teaching and learning. We have not physically been in school since mid-March – life has been very different. Isolation from friends and family and not being able to engage in physical activities that we used to has been very challenging, especially for young people. Some of us have coped with the change in circumstances better than others. Young people are online now far more than they ever have been – for education, socialising on various platforms, playing online games as a substitute to physical sports and entertainment such as watching Netflix. The new world for young people has become somewhat artificial and for prolonged periods they remain in an online bubble, far removed from reality. Hence, it is even more important that we engineer opportunities to develop skills like resilience, compassion and empathy.
Children who develop resilience are better able to face disappointment, learn from failure, cope with loss and adapt to change. Resilient children have the determination, grit and perseverance to tackle all sorts of problems they come across and can cope with emotional changes and transition much better.
So, how can teachers and parents join hands in supporting young people in our care to develop resilience and in turn support mental health?
Building positive relationships
Opportunities should be provided where young people are encouraged to make decisions themselves and plan situations. This can easily be done in both school and at home by including them in discussions and decision-making – they will feel their point of view is given importance and they will learn to become responsible for their own decisions.
Fostering positive emotions
Extensive research has shown that there is a lot of power in positivity. We can teach them to look at all situations with a positive lens and extract lessons even from unfavourable situations. Encouraging them to show gratitude for the small things in life – good food on the table, comfortable shoes, warm clothes, for example – will foster positivity. This can be achieved by keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’, where one writes down three things that one is grateful for in one’s life every day.
Opportunities where the young people will succeed need to be provided in order to build a strong sense of self-worth. The focus needs to be shifted from what they cannot do to strengthening skills where they show promise. For example, a child may not have good mathematical skills but may have excellent language skills. In cases similar to these, parents and teachers need to encourage the child to participate in events inside and outside the classroom that showcase the area of strength.
Encouraging young people in our care to join hands and help those less fortunate than themselves. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has adversely affected people across the board, is an excellent opportunity to develop a sense of self-worth among the young people by extending support to the wider community. There are a host of opportunities for children to get involved in community service initiatives inside and outside of school – giving back to the community is food for the soul.
It is very important that the diet followed is a balanced and a healthy one and that enough hours of sleep are clocked each night. Both of these will not only fuel their minds but will also feed into building resilience. Specialists recommend a good night’s sleep of 8-9 hours and a move away from screens at least 30 minutes before going to bed needs to be strongly encouraged. This will relax the mind and lead to a better sleep. Maybe we can be good role models here! Taking time away from screens and being ‘still’ – reading a book, meditating, listening to calming music, etc. – is also very important, especially with so much time being spent in front of screens.
Encouraging young people to talk about their feelings or to keep a journal is an excellent way to process feelings and challenges that they may be facing. Journaling not only helps process emotions but also gives them an opportunity to reflect on situations and it may throw up ideas on how they may have handled things better.
Some children, due to their predisposition and the environment that they are raised in, are more resilient than others. It is therefore important that we work towards boosting and teaching resilience, as it is critical to mental health.
Joining hands and making a deliberate effort to practice the above suggestions will lead to better resilience and support mental health.