Building Resilience in Children During Back-to-School Season
Written by: Alyssa Dallas, LICSW Behavioral Health Clinician, Outpatient Psychotherapist
As they go back to school this year, children will be coping with large amounts of stress, uncertainty, and unpredictability. Identifying existing strengths in our children can help them foster resilience, which is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. Every child is unique in how they interact with the world. Identifying and planning coping strategies around our children’s strengths can be a helpful approach to the new school year.
Schools do a good job of identifying children’s weaknesses or growing edges; however, resilience comes from using our strengths to conquer challenges. Parents and caregivers can use the child’s strengths to plan appropriate and individualized strategies that build our children’s resilience.
How to Identify Your Child’s Strengths
There are two free resources online that can help assess strengths, depending on the child’s age. For children 10 and under, parents and children can review this Child Strengths Checklist.
Children ages 10-17 can take the VIA Youth Strengths Assessment, a short quiz that will identify their specific strengths. In the Via Youth Strengths Assessment, there are 24 possible strengths, including creativity, fairness, wisdom, humor, and perspective.
Using These Strengths to Identify Coping Strategies
Planned coping strategies can be enhanced using the unique strengths we identify in our children. For each strength, help your child practice using a coping strategy when there is a minor upset so that the child can build confidence that these strategies will work during times of more difficulty. For example, if your child has any of the following strengths, you can consider these strategies:
- Have art supplies on hand and prompt child to use them when they’re a little frustrated.
- During breaks in structured learning, encourage your child to access free online classes or how-to videos
- Use short breaks to do a speed challenge (5 minutes to do anything creative). This will get the right side of the brain (creativity) activated and then help the left side (thinking) come back strong when they return to schoolwork.
- Use creativity prompts to channel feelings, such as drawing what anger feels like, or writing a song about feeling sad and missing their friends.
- Remind children of times in the past where they used their courage to cope with something challenging.
- Create a Courage Poster, where the child can draw about or write a few words on an index card that reminds them of situations in which they were brave or conquered their fear.
- Ask children to find a funny video, song, or image that has to do with a stressful aspect of returning to school
- Share a funny joke at dinner
- Encourage laughter every day
Starting the new school year during this ambiguous time with unprecedented stressors will require unprecedented coping strategies. Understanding and integrating our children’s strengths into plans for coping with the new school year can help ensure that our children have as successful a year as possible. When children understand their own strengths, they have the confidence to overcome adversity and use their own resilience to succeed.