Encouraging resilient children in your setting

31 March 2021

Jillian Harrison-Longworth is a Teaching Head from Cumbria, she explores how practitioners can encourage resilience in children in their setting

Supporting the development of emotionally resilient children has been brought to the forefront of every practitioner’s mind as the global pandemic continues to unfold. Thankfully there are lots of ways that we can support and nurture resilience in our children as part of our daily routines and using the resources we have in our schools and settings.

Resilience is often understood as ‘bouncebackability’, being able to withstand challenges and responding with appropriate emotional responses for our age/stage of development. This doesn’t happen by osmosis, it has to be taught, modelled and lived as part of the ethos and values of a setting, every day.

As with most effective learning, communication is key. We need to think about our children and tailor our approach according to their needs. Ensuring children have the breadth of emotional language to be able to articulate their feelings alongside cards with pictures/symbols to illustrate these emotions facilitates a more inclusive approach.

Have you thought about the development of vocabulary throughout the setting? Our very youngest children may be expressing ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ to cover their range of emotions but we also need to model and extend the words we use to include more specific vocabulary such as, tired, hungry, excited or angry, before adding in, frightened, worried, embarrassed or frustrated. We also really try to avoid using generic language such as “ok” or “fine” as it’s too vague.

We all have such a wealth of support in our class libraries and book nooks. Stories and picture books tend to have a focus on relationships and overcoming personal challenge. As practitioners, we need to look with new eyes at the content of our books and link them to the social and emotional needs of the children in our care.

We can consider self-esteem and confidence in the tale of Gerald from ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ by Giles Andreae. We can celebrate difference in the classic tale of ‘Elmer’ by David McKee and we can evaluate friendships in books such as ‘I’m Sticking with You’ by Smriti Halls and ‘The Lion Inside’ by Rachel Bright and Jim Field.

In our setting, we use positive words and pictures to boost the children emotionally and to help them believe in themselves. We display quotes in the bathrooms and classrooms, we include discussion about them in group times and ask children to share their own positive words too. This brings those words to life and gives them meaning, they are not just a poster or a picture anymore.

The biggest development of emotional resilience comes from the relationships between adults and children and then children and children. Children know that there is someone who will listen when they feel sad, scared or overwhelmed. They are confident that staff will share in their successes, good news stories and celebrations. These relationships take time, consistent responses and modelling of active speaking and listening skills but the benefit from this investment is truly worthwhile.

Other physical resources we can use in our settings are things like a puppet or a soft toy strategically placed where the children can access it. We often put a message label on it with words such as “I may only look like a scruffy old ted, but I listen and care about every word said.” Adults are then able to identify if a child picks up the puppet or Ted that they may need some emotional support today.

Puppets are great for reenacting or modelling scenarios with the children. Somehow replaying a conflict or challenging situation with puppets seems to enable the children to take a step back from their own actions and be objective in providing advice or solutions to themselves.

It is so important that we model, empower, and equip the children with a range of strategies that they can use to help themselves. To support their own mental health and well-being, to be able to self soothe and self-regulate for in the words of Frederick Douglass 'it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults!’



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