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Building resilience in children

Hannah Gamble  |  08 May 2019

The current statistics around children’s mental health issues are alarming: One in seven primary school aged children have a diagnosable mental illness according to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). That equates to four students in a class of 28.

It’s also important to recognise that this statistic only represents those students whose symptoms are at a clinical level. How many more students in our classrooms are struggling with anxiety and depressive tendencies but have not yet reached a diagnosable level?

In the adolescent years, the statistics around diagnosable mental illness rise to one in four. Fast forward a few more years and mental illness becomes the leading cause of disability in young people. The writing is on the wall, and prevention is the best solution to this mental health epidemic. We need to intervene before anxiety and depressive symptoms take root and present at a clinical level.

How can we do that? First, we need to support children to develop a positive sense of identity, because how they see themselves will shape the lenses through which they see the world around them.

If they see themselves as special with unique attributes and abilities, the world becomes an exciting place full of opportunity, life and possibilities. If they see themselves negatively and think that there is nothing of value about themselves, the world can quickly become a cruel place in which they become a victim. The victim mentality can
then easily snowball into anxiety and depression.

It is crucial that we teach children they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. But beyond that, they also need to see worth in the unique things that make them who they are. When children grow up liking who they are, they don’t grow up wanting to be someone else.

So how do we build children up in their identity? We call out the gold of who they are. We bring it to their attention frequently and give them examples of how they display those attributes.

Equipped with tools for resilience, we can teach primary school children not to fear tough times, but to embrace them as learning and growing opportunities.

Hannah Gamble is a Paediatric Occupational Therapist, author and public speaker. Her practice has released a wellbeing program for primary schools called ‘The Me Tree for Schools’. For more information visit www.metreeforschools.com.au

FIVE KEY strategies to build resilience:

  1. Dig for gold (look for things to be thankful for): In tough times, things to be thankful for can be hard to find, but there is ALWAYS some gold to be found. Children who are regularly practising the discipline of thankfulness or gratitude will be much more likely to find the gold in tough times.
  2. Problem solve: Teach children how to solve a problem by breaking it down into the following steps: i) name the problem, ii) think of solutions, iii) try solutions, iv) ask for help if required.
  3. Fill your happy tank: Intentionally encouraging children to engage in activities they love will help them navigate through a tough time. It’s about promoting self-care and joy.
  4. Get active: It’s essential we teach children about the link between a ‘healthy body and a healthy mind’. Physical exercise provides important sensory input that calms and regulates the nervous system. Cardiovascular exercise also releases a number of ‘happy’ hormones.
  5. Keep it in perspective: When they face a problem, it’s easy for children to catastrophise or blow it out of proportion. We can help them to keep it in perspective by considering which part of their life it affects, examining the size of the problem and teaching children that most problems are seasonal and don’t last forever.

 

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