Matthew G Scott
Matthew is a father of 3 and holds a Bachelor of Education from Melbourne University, a Masters of Education from Monash University, and a Graduate Diploma of Psychology from Monash University.
Childhood isn’t always worry-free. Children may have to deal with issues like bullying, low self-esteem and other struggles. Adding to that, the uncertainties of growing up in the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic can be a challenge. The ability to persevere through these challenges arises from resilience and optimism, which are skills that can be learnt. It supports children’s ability to adapt well to adversities and stress. How do we instil these values in children amidst the uncertainty? We share more in this article by Matthew Scott, Vice Principal of Middleton International School.
Watching my daughter struggle as she repeatedly attempted to perfect the handstand to backwards bridge combination made me acutely aware of the fact that resilience is always, in all ways, a part of our daily lives. She reminded me of the Japanese saying, fall seven, rise eight. Dealing with challenges, change, and setbacks is a shared human condition.
That said, resilience doesn’t just occur at random. We can’t cross our fingers and hope that our children will magically develop a healthy relationship with strength and stability. Learning a new skill takes time. Learning to be resilient involves failure, feedback and a fair dollop of optimism. The ability to bounce back and maintain buoyancy in the sea of life is a skill that should be taught in homes and schools. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need to equip our children with evidence-based tools to support resilience is essential more than ever before.
All too often we hear phrases like ‘toughen up’ or ‘be more resilient’. These phrases are uttered by teachers, leaders, friends and even by ourselves. We are aware of the need to be resilient, but not everyone has access to the appropriate tools to balance life’s challenges successfully. Therefore as educators, teaching resilience is not a luxury but an ethical mandate.
Despite resilience consisting of many genetic and environmental factors, some critical components are within our control, and we can nurture our children to adopt them. These components, when explicitly taught and modelled, can positively impact wellbeing. One of these critical components is optimism.
Developing an optimistic pattern of thinking and explanatory style can help students successfully navigate the inevitable failures and mistakes that appear on the road of life and benefit their wellbeing.
It is important to note that an abundance of optimism may leave students ignoring the adverse events in life and brushing real emotions under the metaphorical carpet. Interestingly optimists are just as likely to encounter bad events as pessimists. The significant difference is where they diverge their explanations. The aim of teaching resilience skills is not about ignoring negative emotions but instead learning to face them more deliberately and positively.
When faced with challenges, two simple, evidence-based tools can be modelled and taught to students to make inroads into developing a greater sense of optimism & resilience. They are the ‘The Resilience Robot’ and the ‘Three Ps’
The Robot: A Tool Designed To Develop Agency and Control in Learners
(Reivich & Shatte 2002)
This tool works on control. It helps students adopt a positive and realistic outlook, teaching them to accept events that they cannot change and actively convert their energy into controllable events.
- When faced with a problem, challenge or ‘resilient’ moment, start listing the variables that are not in your control. Take the time to articulate your frustrations regarding the things that are immovable.
- Take a deep breath. Begin to consider all the options that are within your control. What actions or responses can you take to address the situation? What resources are at your disposal. List several measures that you can take to respond or begin to restore the situation.
- Plan two specific and measurable positive actions that you can take to improve the situation. Shift the locus of control back to the individual.
It is an excellent tool to model and use in the classroom. It can support students in developing a greater sense of agency over their challenges and helps them take meaningful action. The less the focus is on perceiving that negative events are personal, and permanent, the better it is for children. Hence, when something goes wrong, we can support them to evaluate their self-talk and look at the healthier ways of dealing with these emotions.
The Three Ps: Developing Optimistic Self Explanatory Styles
(Pink, 2009; Gillham et al, 2001)
Figure 3: The Three P’s
The Three Ps is an abridged version of Seligman’s more detailed self-explanatory continuums. It works well for children and can be easily adapted into classroom practices. When faced with a challenge or failure, we want to be able to allow our children to answer no, intelligently, to the following three questions.
Is it permanent?
Is it pervasive?
Is it personal?
By asking children to reflect on events and argue that it doesn't meet these criteria supports them to move on and take positive action in a more optimistic, sustainable manner. It supports systematically teaching and modelling these strategies to children, in schools, universities and homes across Singapore. We can then help our children to live in these current uncertain times more optimistically. These tools are not a cure and will not prevent things from going wrong, or tears from being shed. However, over time, and with support they will nurture our children into being happier and more resilient. That is something worth striving for.