Mental toughness


    Nicola S. Morgan provides some practical tips to help build resilience in children

    Developing resilience in children and young people is key in order for them to overcome any challenges they may face, from adapting to a new classroom to dealing with abuse at home. Providing children with the right skills not only enables them to bounce back from stress, challenge, trauma or adversity, but also enables them to develop their self-esteem and become more curious and adaptable both inside and outside school.

    Resilience, as defined by Kinman and Grant (2011), “is a complex and multifaceted construct, referring to a person’s capacity to handle environmental difficulties, demands and high pressure without experiencing negative effects.” Therefore, although children with SEN may need more guidance and support, it is crucial that we help them develop their own independence and potential.

    In order to support this, schools can provide a variety of experiences to enable children to build a bank of resilience tools which will help them to overcome obstacles, walk through challenges and bounce back from difficulties. Below are just a few suggestions:

    Teach problem solving so that they learn how to handle challenges and become more independent in their thought process whilst allowing them to keep perspective rather than catastrophising. When discussing problems, try to avoid “why” questions as they don’t support the problem solving process; instead ask “what”, “where” or “when” questions, such as “What is the first thing you could do?”

    Welcoming mistakes not only enables children to develop their learning but also improves their decision making skills. Using the acronym MISTAKES (Means I Start To Acquire Knowledge Experience and Skills) can help children to embrace mistakes and not avoid them. When they make a mistake, ask “What can you learn from this and what would you do differently next time?”

    Routines provide a structure to the day but they also help to teach self-care and other skills needed for a healthy and happy lifestyle, such as the importance of eating good food, exercising and taking plenty of rest – all of which prepare children to overcome stressful times.

    Change is part of life. It is important to encourage children to embrace change and not fear it. Help them by saying something like, “It’s OK when things don’t go to plan”, and “Let’s try doing this task a different way”.

    Managing emotions is a key part of resilience. Focusing on past challenges which the child has overcome can help them tackle other challenges. It is also important to make children aware that it’s OK not to be OK, and it’s OK to experience negative as well as positive emotions. If negative emotions are experienced, compiling a plan for what to do next can really help get them back on track. You could say something like “How can you make yourself feel better?”

    Taking a break is also important and should be included in daily routines. Changing the child’s focus can help them see things in a different way and prevent them from worrying about a problem. Saying something like “Let’s go for a walk and see what this looks like when we come back” can help to refocus their mind and see things in a more positive light.

    Positive relationships with family and friends are key in a child and young person’s life. Forming friendships and connections with others is a fundamental skill, especially when they need to seek help or advice. Reciprocating this will help to empower them and give them purpose.

    Further information

    Nicola S. Morgan of NSM Training and Consultancy is an international education consultant, teacher and author, and co-organises the National Education Show:

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