K-12 Schools

Promoting Childrens’ Resiliency in the ClassroomImage - schools

Children are remarkably resilient in their ability to “bounce back” from life problems in a way that makes them stronger.  Some psychologists think that it is precisely through confronting developmental crisis, in which category many disasters would certainly fall, that children grow and develop. 

Resiliency conditions take place along three dimensions of our experience: I AM, I CAN, and I HAVE. This fact sheet will discuss each of these as it relates to disaster recovery in children.

I AM refers to personal characteristics such as self-esteem, confidence, and recognition of personal strengths and assets.  Children do not have a lifetime of experience on which to draw, but they do have optimism and hope and confidence, and they are beginning to accumulate experiences of being survivors.  Feeding students’ sense that they “are survivors” can help foster resiliency. 

I CAN as an element of resiliency refers to recognition of not just self-esteem but self-efficacy, which means the ability to DO and PERFORM survival- and recovery-related tasks.  Although they may not possess the roles and resources and social positions of older people, children can bring their own talents of wisdom and perseverance and perspective and spirituality that they can bring to the disaster experience.

I HAVE refers to the supports around each of us that promote resilience.  These supports are like the airbags in our cars that even when we crash can keep us from being wounded too seriously.  For students these support systems center around the family and the school.  It is essential, therefore, that children have experiences in school that promote resiliency. 

School teachers, administrators, and support personnel can promote students’ resiliency through:

  • Demonstrating an example of coping skills
  • Teaching some specific coping skills for children that might include focus on breathing, stretching and exercise, positive thinking, and appropriate expression of feelings such as anger and sadness
  • Enhancing children’s sense of control and mastery through involving them in classroom management and decision-making.  Maybe you can even find ways to involve children in creating a school disaster plan to follow in the event of an emergency.
  • Assuring children of their ongoing and strong advocacy and presence in their lives.

Web Links

This 3-page article provided by SAMHSA titled Tips for Supporting Children During Times of War: A Guide for Teachers explores how to talk to children about war and how to help children better access their abilities to cope.

FEMA offers disaster mental health resources for parents and teachers, including interactive online curriculum and activities for children

A fact sheet on the impact of terrorism and disasters on children from the American Psychological Association

The National Institute for Mental Health offers resources regarding traumatic events and children and adolescents

The National Association of School Psychologists offers school safety and crisis resources, including information on crisis teams in schools

The Center for Health and Healthcare in Schools offers various mental health resources for teachers, parents, and students

Ready.gov offers a site specifically designed to help kids understand disaster preparedness

Sesame Street’s affiliated organization, Sesame Workshop, offers a wealth of emotional health resources for children and their parents