Supporting Schools After Lockdown 6/7: The True Building Blocks of Resilience
The concept of resilience can be unhelpful and even shaming when wielded without proper understanding, leading to the formation of false selves. In the penultimate part of her blog series supporting the reopening of schools, child psychotherapist and director of Your Space Therapies Emma Connor discusses her love-hate relationship with the term, and shares some ways in which schools can foster true resilience.
Resilience: this was becoming a buzzword in schools before the lockdown and now, with schools regrouping after the rupture of the Covid-19 school closures, there is no greater need for resilience. I am very interested in this concept and how the current curriculum encourages resilience, and I have a love and hate relationship with it. Of course, we want our children to be able to bounce back from difficulty and ride the storm.
But it is often assumed that resilience is a state of mind, achievable simply by following mantras like, ‘believe in yourself and the world will be believe in you’. To ask a child with no sense of self, who has experienced trauma or is having relationship difficulties due to insecure attachments, to just ‘believe in yourself’ can not only feel impossible – the requirement can also be shaming for the child who can’t muster that self-belief when the world demands this of them.
It’s all in the balance
In fact, true resilience is about allowing a balance of strength and vulnerability. It is vital to help children understand that we have a textured way of being and that resilience is a managing of these two states. This quote from Yasmin Mogahed sums it up for me:
‘Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But you keep going.’
This reminds me of Winnicott’s concept of the ‘True and False self’. In order to allow true-self feelings, the primary caregiver must have space to witness them. If we don’t, as attachment figures, have this capacity, the ‘False self’ develops. This is a gauze that mutes and merely performs the essences of self and won’t allow vulnerabilities to be aired, leaving behind feelings of being unseen, misunderstood and shame. This does not create resilience, but a fragmented sense of self.
When we re-enter schools after the lockdown we must do so with broad shoulders and open hearts. Teaching staff and therapists need to model to children that times have been universally difficult, but they have managed. It might be helpful to say things to children like:
- “I’m guessing you might feel confused that school closed, you might be thinking it could happen again”
- “You might have felt very worried that you were not coming back to school; what a big feeling to carry for so long”
- “you might feel very cross that we didn’t say goodbye before lockdown. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel, this has been such a tough time”
Reflect and connect
Taking the concept of resilience out of a cognitive process is also important, and paying attention to the body is vital learning. When something happens to a child that they are not happy about, rather than taking an account and moving on to resolution, we have an opportunity to build the child’s resilience.
- What body sensations are you having? (use body map)
- How do you feel? (use necessary props)
- What image would you choose? (use image card)
- What do we need to do now? (Breathe, use calm box, shout into a cup, jump to regulate etc…)
Using a process of reflection like this teaches the child self-regulation skills and helps them to attend to the accountabilities in their reactions. We are more likely to grow resilient children, who can take responsibility for their own feelings and reactions, and be better emotionally regulated by following processes like these.
The formula for healthy resilience is: Vulnerability + Accountability = Resilience.
Your Space Therapies Limited offers counselling and psychotherapy for children and families, in person and online during the pandemic. For more information about their online mental health conferences, specifically designed to support children, professionals and school communities with emotional recovery from Covid-19, visit www.yourspacetherapies.org.