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Community Conversations: Building Resilience


by Melinda Kaufman, Lower School Director and Tim Campbell, Middle School Director


Sarah Davies, School Psychologist, joined us to discuss Building Resilience in our students at McGillis. The Zoom recording and slides can be found on the SEL Canvas page.  Following are key takeaways from the conversation. 


What is Resilience?

Psychologists define resilience as the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.  Being resilient doesn’t mean that children or adults won’t experience difficulty or distress.  Emotional pain, sadness, and anxiety are common when we have suffered major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else’s loss or trauma.  In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. Building resilience can help our children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.


The good news is that resilience skills can be learned. Just like building up a muscle, increasing your resilience takes time and intentionality.


10 General Tips for Building Resilience:

  1. Make connections: Teach your child the importance of engaging and connecting with their peers, including the skill of empathy and listening to others. Build a strong family network.
  2. Help your child by having them help others: Helping others has a powerful impact on our self-confidence and knowing we are important to others. Children who may feel helpless can feel empowered by helping others.
  3. Maintain a daily routine: Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children. Work with your child to develop a routine, and highlight times that are for school work and play.
  4. Take a break: While some anxiety can motivate us to take positive action, we also need to validate all feelings. Teach your child how to focus on something that they can control or can act on. Be aware of what your child is exposed to that can be troubling, whether it’s through the news, online, or overheard conversations.
  5. Teach your child the importance of basic self-care: This may be making more time to eat properly, exercise, and get sufficient sleep. Make sure your child has time to have fun, and participate in activities they enjoy. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help children stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.
  6. Move towards your goals: Teach your child to set reasonable goals and help them to move toward them one step at a time. Establishing goals will help children focus on a specific task and can help build the resilience to move forward in the face of challenges.
  7. Nurture a positive self view:  Help your child remember ways they have successfully handled hardships in the past and help them understand that these past challenges help build the strength to handle future challenges. Help your child learn to trust themselves to solve problems and make appropriate decisions.
  8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook: Even when your child is facing very painful events, help them look at the situation in a broader context and help them see that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good. An optimistic and positive outlook can enable children to see the good things in life and keep going even in the hardest times.
  9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery: Tough times are often when children learn the most about themselves. Help your child take a look at how whatever they’re facing can teach them “what am I made of.”
  10. Accept change: Change can be scary for children and teens. Help your child see that change is part of life and new goals can replace goals that have become unattainable. It is important to examine what is going well, and to have a plan of action for what is not going well.


What does resilience look like at McGillis? 

  • We intentionally focus on building strong communities through daily community circles in K-5 and Kehilah Crews in Middle School.
  • We teach students how to talk to each other to resolve differences and conflicts.
  • We encourage students to talk to their teachers and advocate for what they need.
  • We expect students to learn classroom routines, expectations, and to navigate their days independently.
  • We empower students by asking, “How can I help you?  What do you think you need?  What tool could you use?” 
  • We talk about having a growth mindset, we celebrate making mistakes, and we let students fail.


What can parents do to help children build resilience?

  • Don’t interview for pain - focus on the good stuff (our brains are wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive).
  • Growth mindset.
  • Model authenticity and honesty, engage in two-sided conversations and be willing to share your own struggles and what you do when faced with challenges.

Join us virtually at our next Community Conversation on December 8 for a discussion on “Smartphones: Should we wait, or are we ready right now?”.