Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them.
~H. Jackson Brown, Jr., Author of Life’s Little Instruction Book
The statistics on children’s social and emotional wellbeing are alarming. An estimated 20% of school-age children experience some kind of mental health problem at any point in a school year1 and 80% do not receive effective services to improve their situation.2 Persistent sadness, worry, problems focusing, impulsive behavior, extreme anger outbursts and physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, and dizziness, interfere with paying attention in class, completing homework, and getting along with family members, teachers, and friends.
Over the last decade or so, educators and mental health professionals have collaborated to teach students ways to build wellbeing. Terms such as: social and emotional learning (SEL), positive youth development, violence prevention, character education, and mental health promotion3 are used to describe school programming. You may recognize programs already in place such as: I Can Problem Solve, Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, Raising Healthy Children, Safe and Caring Schools, Second Step, Social Decision Making/Social Problems Solving, Strong Kids, and Thinking, Feeling, Behavior: An Emotional Education Curriculum for Children. The goal is to give students tools they can use to not only fight off mental health problems, but thrive. Scientist Jonas Salk understood the value in this approach. In 1985, when asked what he would work on today if he were a young scientist, he reflected he would focus on psychological, rather than biological, immunization. Social and emotional “vaccines” work to strengthen individuals’:
- Social awareness
- Responsible decision-making
- Relationship management
Do any of these concepts seem familiar or intuitive? Students who are constantly blurting out comments at inopportune times, bullying others, seem sad and disconnected, using drugs and alcohol, and regularly missing homework deadlines often lack social and emotional skills. Teaching resilience in school is just as valuable as academics and physical education to give students every chance of living well.
Here are ways you can actively promote resilience in your school and classroom:
- Do you know what your school and/or district is currently doing to promote resilience?
- When you are in the classroom, on the playground, in the hallways and lunchroom, do you talk to your students about how to identify emotions, take someone’s perspective, show empathy, make decisions, and ways to take personal responsibility?
- Consider talking with school administrators, the mental health team, and teachers about how to strategically incorporate resilience-building strategies. Expect this to be a process that will take time, resources, and external support.
A highly respected organization for promoting Social and Emotional Learning is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Browse their website for information and ideas.
1Coie, J. D., Miller-Jackson, S., & Bagwell, C. (2000). Prevention science. In A. J. Sameroff, M. Lewis, & S. M. Miller (Eds.). Handbook of Developmental Psychopathology (pp.93-108).New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
2Greenberg, M.T., Weissberg, R. P., O’Brien, M. T., Zins, J. E., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., & Elias, M. J. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist, 58, 466-474.
3Merrell, K. W., & Gueldner, B. A. (2010). Social and emotional learning in the classroom: Promoting mental health and academic success. New York: Guilford Press.