Resilience has become a 21st century educational buzzword – but what does it actually mean, and how do we help build it? As our girls progress through Senior School, they’ll face a range of challenges along the way. Mrs Bingham recently wrote an article on the importance of parental resilience with regard to children’s well-being and success. When we welcome our Year 7 families each year, I explain their daughter’s journey to independence – and the importance of building resilience – via a sporting metaphor…
When an athlete is aiming to get fitter, stronger, faster – ready to meet the demands of their sport at their desired level – she progressively increases the weights, extends the length of sessions, and intensifies the training demands. Increasing resistance helps her build stamina and strength gradually. It does mean that training is rarely totally comfortable because, just when she’s mastered one level of training, it’s time to turn it up a notch. But, over time, she is amazed at what she can do compared to what she could do when she started. Her body has adapted. And, importantly, her mind has also adapted. Her mind has got used to being challenged. Her mind doesn’t panic when her heart rate is high or the weight feels heavy. Instead, she knows that, last time she upped the weight, she managed and got stronger, so she gains confidence that, this time, she will probably also manage – and be better off for it.
This is rather like growing up through the teenage years. As educators and as parents we have a role to play in helping the girls along that journey of growth: to be able to cope with life’s big adult challenges when she gets to them. She needs to be exposed to challenges. She needs to be regularly feel a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe it means that she needs to come to school on a day when she’s feeling a bit tired or under the weather. Maybe it means that she needs to persevere through a difficult week – when there are multiple events or assessments or more homework due – engaging her core strength and facing the challenge so that she knows, next time it happens, she can get through. We need to help her to understand that sometimes life is just like that; all the events come at once. So she needs to learn to cope here, now, while the stakes are still fairly low.
Whatever the challenges are, we are here to support the girls. To help them learn skills and strategies to survive when it all feels a bit tough – and to thrive when things are going well. But we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t keep challenging her, keep asking a little more of her, keep raising the bar slightly. This is exactly what she needs. Resilience involves proportionate reaction to what life deals us – and children take their cues from their parents. The girls look to us, the adults, to determine how worried they should be about things that happen. As parents, knowing when to step back is as important as knowing when to step in. But if we stay calm and encourage them to take things in their stride, they are much more likely to be able to do just that.
As parents, you can help her through that programme of progressive resistance training by reminding her that this is what it’s supposed to feel like. There are supposed to be bumps along the way. Life is a maze of challenges: fabulous highs, scary difficult bits, sad bits and feelings of confidence from the sense of getting stronger, wiser and more resilient. You can remind her that – whatever she’s feeling and experiencing – there are people who can help and that she’s not alone, however she might feel that no one quite knows what it’s like to be her. And that, if things are getting difficult, the best thing she can do is to come to school, to talk to us and to let us help. With adult support, she can develop the internal skills, the motivations and the strength to be feel empowered to navigate her own way.
Senior Deputy Head, Ms Brass, heads up the pastoral programme at South Hampstead High School, which aims to equip all our girls to be architects of their own happiness.