As COVID-era plans develop for back to school time, there are multiple areas of focus: safety, skill development, social-emotional health and the creation of a positive “new normal” for operating schools in 2020 and beyond. It is good to see that the “Fourth R” - resilience - is getting a fair share of attention as well.
Schools and districts are working hard to manage physical health risks and to create strong and supportive social-emotional foundations. Such a framework has to be flexible enough to meet the needs of the full range of learners. What may be a moderate challenge for one child can be overwhelming for another, so re-calibrating expectations is essential. One size won’t fit all. It never did. For kids who struggled in pre-COVID times, there are even more formidable challenges now. Youngsters who have experienced increased incidents of stress, anxiety and trauma will sometimes face challenges that exceed their capacity to function effectively. Every time resources and strategies strengthen a child’s resilience - through guidance and support, empathy and encouragement – the outcome will be more successful than “try harder” admonitions or punitive sanctions.
What is that Fourth R about? Resilience is the capacity to deal with significant stressors and then be able to reflect, recover, refocus and re-energize. It essential for individuals, families, communities and systems. We aren’t born infused with a lifetime supply of resilience; it develops over time through nurturing relationships, lived experiences and strategies we are taught that shape our development. At times like this, when the environment around us is substantially disrupted, our resilience can be tested, along with our capacity to self-regulate and function productively. We see the results all around us. Adults who become unruly and refuse to follow basic guidelines at a grocery store or restaurant are dysregulated: they are processing too many stressors and have too little capacity to cope and refocus. A pandemic can do that. Children facing an unfamiliar learning landscape when they return to school may not have the reservoir of experience and energy to successfully navigate novel and uncomfortable experiences. Many kids will need additional time, space and a co-regulating adult to build up the resilience needed for them to be successful the next time... or the time after that.
It is interesting to scan the “restart” education resources across Canada and beyond. There is a universal focus on the primacy of social-emotional health and a growing recognition that overwhelmed kids can’t learn. Youngsters’ ability to engage in the “3 Rs” and other core competencies, doesn’t happen without attention to social-emotional health including the 4th R - Resilience - as a foundation.
Bottom line? We create a better new normal when it is infused with attention to social-emotional health and resilience.
Following are links to several resources that may be helpful on this journey, both for professional reflection and for sharing with parents:
https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/abk9962 This short article from HealthLinkBC identifies specific resilience-focused strategies. In our new normal, we will need them.
https://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-kids-deal-with-rejection/ From the Child Mind Institute, these 5 tips focus dealing with rejection and disappointment with simple explanations as to what responses will benefit a child.
https://childmind.org/nixieandnimbo/ Another Child Mind Institute resource. This animated series of short clips is for young children as they tackle concepts such as anxiety and begin to learn coping strategies. Links for parents and caregivers are also available.
cators and caregivers. Great tips and reminders.
https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/jul2020/preventing-compassion-fatigue This article explains how the body responds to stress, and offers suggestions on how to recognize and manage the compounding impact of stress on the care giver. It’s a good reminder that self-care by adults is essential if we are to provide the effective support youngsters require. The article is aimed at early childhood educators, but the messages and strategies will resonate for educators throughout the system.