The Resilience classes helping kids across Australia

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“The self esteem that we’ve been teaching for the past 40 years is a false identity.”

We’ve all chanted the mantra; Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. I remember it from my own school days, but does it really work to convince a child of their innate value as a human, or is it something we just yell out when under attack from a bully?

For a long time now, ‘resilience‘ has been a buzzword in psychological practice, schools and parenting forums. We have been told that people need ‘grit’ to succeed in life (Brene Brown), and a growth mindset (Carol Dweck) to improve their perception about themselves and their ability to learn.

But how?

But how do we achieve a growth mindset and how do we develop grit? Without excellent role models who display these qualities, in our homes and in our schools, children are missing out on vital skills.

It’s a sad but true fact that some kids can’t learn resilience at home. It’s a very real problem in the more disadvantaged areas of our society; some parents just do not have the emotional reserves to guide their children to be robust in the face of disappointment or adversity. There are parents who have had experiences that leave them thoroughly traumatised and, hence, unable to teach their children these crucial skills.

Teachers too, despite social emotional learning frameworks being part of their training, are human. Their own educations and experiences influence their ability to model positive behaviours.

“The ‘I Mind You and Me SELF’ project”

That’s where psychologists Dr Sarah Barker and Dr Penny Brabin hope to come to the rescue. They have developed the ‘I Mind You and Me SELF’ project, a social, emotional learning framework which aims to train teachers in primary schools across Australia in a new resilience training program. The focus is on how children view themselves and the language we use, as educators and responsible adults, when we speak with children.

Dr Brabin, a clinical educational development psychologist, has spent over three decades working with young people and has identified that there is a gap in the current social-emotional “learning programs that don’t address the idea of ‘Self'” which could be leading to what she sees as an increase in problems with kids.

“Schools are ticking off their social-emotional outcomes but things aren’t improving,” she says.

In the 70s and 80s there was a shift towards educators, and parents, using language which built up a child’s self-esteem.

“Research back then showed that people who feel good about themselves, tend to do better,” says Dr Brabin, “but if you look at that research long term, it’s the opposite. The self-esteem that we’ve been teaching for the past 40 years is a false identity.”

“Language which is ‘self-building'”

What she aims to do with the new program is shift teachers and parents towards language which is ‘self-building’.

Dr Barker says that on a practical level, the program gives teachers strategies to change their language when speaking with students.

“Teachers will help children to recognise that they have a part of themselves that is able to reflect and learn and recognise that we all make mistakes … but we are separate to those mistakes and we can choose how we respond to them. It is that innately human capacity to be able to reflect and to learn from things, that is helpful to our resilience as well.”

“It is this concept of innate resilience which seems to be the missing piece of the jigsaw. As a consequence of the self-esteem learning framework, children are identifying too much with their feelings; if they feel sad they are sad. The ‘I Mind You and Me’ program gives teachers and parents the skills to help children access their innate resilience, to manage their emotions differently, and to realise that they are not their behaviours.

“And being able to access and tap into that, as necessary, they are not their experiences, but that they can observe and reflect on those, learn from them and be guided by their feelings to choose how to respond.”

Confidence, safety, calmness

Children whose teachers have been working with this shift in language report that learning that how to see themselves as being separate from their behaviour has increased their confidence in the schoolyard and makes them feel safer and calmer. It has also helped them appreciate that others, who may act in different ways, are more than just their behaviours.

The beauty of this model is the idea that we are OK as people, we are all worthy of respect, no matter what our experiences and behaviours are.

“However,” Penny adds, “the world doesn’t always treat us with respect and kids, currently, internalise this to a point where they feel unworthy of respect. The ‘I Mind You and Me’ program aims to combat these negative responses and teach children about “a resilient self which is unjudgeable.”

For more information about the program, contact Dr Brabin or Dr Barker at iMind, Psychology for Living.