Building Resilience in Students: Coping Strategies for Academic Challenges

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(Radhika Zahedi, School Director, The Green Acres Academy)

What is Resilience?

Resilience means that Students can bounce back or recover from difficult situations, challenges, or setbacks. It is having a strong inner ability to stay strong and positive even when things get tough.

Why is resilience important?

A short story that I told my children last week:

In a vibrant garden, a small Butterfly wrestled within its cocoon. Lily, a compassionate soul, rushed to aid it. Her gentle touch began to pry the cocoon open, until her wise mother intervened.

“Wait, Lily,” her mother advised, eyes gleaming. “The struggle is vital for the Butterfly’s strength.”

Lily pondered, “But won’t my help speed things up?”

Her mother knelt, explaining, “The Butterfly’s wings need this trial, a unique training for soaring high.”

Lily grasped the concept. “So, helping might harm it?”

“Exactly, dear. Nature’s course builds strength through challenges,” her mother affirmed.

Lily sealed the cocoon, allowing nature’s journey. Day by day, she observed its struggle until a morning of radiant wings. The Butterfly’s flight brought Lily joy, a lesson in embracing struggles and the potency of organic growth.

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  1. Resilience for learning and growth

Research for many fields – Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Health, Fitness etc. have shown us that a combination of Hard work, Challenge, Learning from Failure leads to Growth!

When we learn in the classroom too, students need resilience to learn. Resilience allows them to be engaging in difficult tasks without giving up. Resilience allows them to bounce back from mistakes. Resilience allows them to endure the life-long journey of learning when things get tough.

  1. Resilience for better mental health and well-being

Resilience equips students with the strength to cope with challenges, maintaining mental well-being and finding solutions in tough situations. Resilience reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, benefiting mental and physical health. It strengthens relationships through effective communication, conflict resolution, and empathy, leading to fulfilling connections.

How can we build resilience in students?

  1. Teach Children about the value of Struggle and Resilience

Helping students see that challenges are not obstacles but steppingstones to growth and learning i.e., build a ‘Growth Mindset’. 

Sometimes, we assume that students will pick these ideas up automatically, but most often that is not true. We need to teach it.

We can do this by sharing stories of individuals who have overcome adversity and discussing the lessons learned from our own setbacks.

This will help students develop a mindset that embraces difficulties as opportunities for personal development.

  1. Create Opportunities for extending learning / challenge

Offering tasks and projects that stretch students just beyond their comfort zones helps cultivate resilience. 

If students are only doing easy tasks, they have no chance to be resilient, and if the task is so hard that it is unattainable, they are at risk of believing they are incapable. So, the goal is to give them a ‘just right’ challenge.

The opportunities encourage them to tackle complex problems, engage in critical thinking, and experiment with new approaches nurtures their ability to adapt, problem-solve, and persevere when faced with difficult academic or life situations.

  1. Balance Support with Autonomy

Teachers and Parents are nurturers, so we are often tempted to jump in and support students when they struggle.

Balancing support with independence is crucial. 

Don’t coddle: Too much support without independence is ‘coddling’ or spoiling or micromanaging. 

Don’t neglect: Too much independence without support amounts to ‘neglect’.  

Providing a supportive environment where students feel safe to express their struggles while setting clear expectations and boundaries helps them build resilience. By allowing students to experience moderate levels of difficulty and overcome obstacles on their own, educators enable them to develop confidence in their abilities and a sense of self-reliance.

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  1. Promote Healthy Stress Management and Provide Supportive Relationships: 

Teach students healthy ways to manage stress and emotions, such as mindfulness techniques, deep breathing, and physical activity. Help them understand that setbacks are a normal part of life and guide them in developing effective ways to handle stress and bounce back from challenges.

Create a supportive and trusting classroom environment where students feel comfortable sharing their struggles. Offer guidance and mentorship and teach them effective problem-solving and coping strategies. When students feel heard and understood, they are more likely to develop resilience.

  1. Practice Solution-focused Strategies: 

Teach students to focus on solutions when they face a problem. Too often students mistake rumination, complaining or protesting as a solution to a problem. Instead, we should help them recognize that this might make them feel better in the short term but may not solve the problem. Teaching solution-focused strategies involves guiding students to analyse problems from multiple angles, encouraging listening to other perspectives, and emphasising the importance of resourcefulness and creative thinking. This process nurtures their resilience and enables them to tackle difficulties with a proactive and adaptable mindset. 

In cultivating resilience within students, we empower them to navigate challenges, embrace growth, and ultimately soar to their fullest potential, much like the Butterfly emerging triumphant from its cocoon.

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