Mental Health and Well-Being Snapshot: May 2023
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Resilience for Well-being
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Why resilience matters

We spent two days last week at the BC Mental Health in Schools Conference. The focus of the conference was connection, and we heard from some experts in the field about the ways that connection, kindness, and social-emotional learning can fortify student and staff mental health. Another common thread throughout many of the sessions was resilience, which is why we wanted to focus on that topic this month.

A presenter at the conference, Dr. Michael Ungar, described what resilience looks like when we are faced with a significant challenge: "resilience is our capacity to navigate our way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain our wellbeing and to negotiate for these resources to be provided in meaningful ways." In short, resilience is a resourceful ability to seek out and tap into external supports and internal strengths when needed, and the capacity to advocate for help when it is needed. Developing resilience in children and youth is important because it helps them cope with challenges and setbacks throughout their lives.

Children and youth who are resilient have better outcomes in many areas of life, including social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being. They are better equipped to manage stress, make healthy choices, build positive relationships, and achieve their goals. Resilient children and youth are more likely to have a positive self-image and a sense of control over their lives. They also tend to have higher levels of self-esteem and confidence in their abilities, which can lead to greater success in school and beyond.

Moreover, resilience can help children and youth develop the skills they need to manage difficult emotions and handle conflict in a healthy and productive way. By learning how to cope with stress and adversity, they are more likely to develop strong problem-solving skills and effective strategies for managing their emotions and behavior. Finally, building resilience can also help children and youth develop a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. They may be more likely to set and pursue meaningful goals, and to find meaning and fulfillment in their achievements.

Read on to learn more about resilience, and how schools and families can support its development in children and youth.
Resilience Explained

Video: When weighing positives and negatives, the position of the fulcrum matters a lot

The Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard has produced this video that explains how resilience can help us all cope with adversity. They use the metaphor of a scale balanced on a fulcrum. Positive and negative events can tip the scale either way, but adverse experiences or beneficial protective experiences and factors can both move the position of the fulcrum, making those positive or negative experiences more or less impactful. Watch the video linked below to learn more.


Video: Resiliency for Young Students

This Video from Dr. Ungar's Resilience Research Centre highlights key environmental factors that can help foster resilience. Importantly, structure, consequences (and opportunities to right wrongs), and opportunities to cultivate a sense of identity are all underscored as vital components of a child's upbringing and education.


Video: Resilience through their eyes

We know some things about what the research suggests, but what do children actually see as being helpful when they face adversity? In this video, students from the Surrey school district discuss what worries and stressors exist in their lives, and the strategies they deploy or that supportive people in their lives use when they are struggling.


The resilience umbrella uses the metaphor of an umbrella to illustrate some of the protective factor that foster resilience. From their website:

All of these protective factors are used to increase mental well-being while risk factors, such as trauma, decrease mental well-being. The more protective factors that we have in our life, the stronger our resiliency, and the fewer risk factors affect our mental health.

It‘s important to note that there will always be challenges, but it is how you react to those setbacks that will make you a more resilient person.

Click the link to read more and watch some short videos about resilience.


Key attributes of resilience

This article from Heart Mind Online highlights several attributes that people who display resilience seem to have in common:

1.  Resilient people have secure relationships.
Relationships with others support resilience when: there are secure, attached relationships at home with parents and/or other caregivers; other adults accept and respect a child; relationships from the different environments of a child interact, for example when a child's family and school communicate

2.  Resilient people self-regulate effectively.  
This means resilient people can: stay calm under pressure;
express emotions in a way that helps the situation;control impulses; delay gratification and persevere in the face of adversity. 

3.  Resilient people empathize.
Resilient people understand and care about the feelings and needs of others. They enjoy a level of optimism that contributes to a willingness to be responsible. They can more easily see others' points of view; this allows them to find effective ways to resolve conflicts and problems.

4.  Resilient people have helpful thinking patterns.
Resilient people: analyze problems accurately; keep positive, without denying reality; view mistakes as opportunities to learn; and believe they can act to solve problems. 
Building resilience at home
The images below are taken from a Kelty Mental Health webinar about supporting about promoting resilience for your children, and the text is adapted from a related article. The context of the webinar was the return to school from pandemic remote learning, but many of the strategies and mindsets encouraged in the webinar are relevant to resilience in any context. Read below for more information, or take a look at the in-depth article and webinar for further learning.

Strengthen connections and a feeling of security

A strong connection and feeling loved helps children feel secure in their attachment and supports resilience in other domains in their lives.

Expressions of love, whether through joint play, saying kind and caring words, or a hug, can all fill up a child's bucket.

The idea of "connect before you direct" is about making sure there is a positive emotional "deposit" before you attempt what might be perceived by your child as a "withdrawal." It simply means find time for positive connection when you are reunited at the end of the day, before you ask your child to clean their room or empty the dishwasher.

Building connection with their school can also help your child strengthen their relationships with teachers or other trusted adults, and can help make debriefs of the day easier as well.

Strengthen a sense of mastery

The Kelty article highlights agency and mastery as key elements of resilience. Here are some ways they list to foster a sense of mastery in your children:

"Help them identify situations they are worried about, and walk through possible outcomes. Role playing and practicing situations in advance can help reduce worries.

Help them figure out strategies they can use to reassure themselves when they feel anxious or overwhelmed during the day. 

Normalize worries and mistakes, by sharing your own worries and social mistakes. To have a sense of mastery we need to know that being worried and making mistakes does not mean we failed, but we are getting better at this.

Empower them with actions they can take. Doing something about a problem, even if the smallest of actions, can reduce the feeling of powerlessness and help kids feel more agency in the world."

Make space for emotions and build emotional skills

It's important that as parents we don't dismiss or minimize our children's concerns, and it is equally important to acknowledge that we may not always have an answer for their concerns, and that is alright. The article from Kelty Mental Health recommends the following: 

"Notice any big feelings they may be having. Observe, and reflect to them emotions showing up in their facial expressions, tone of voice, posture and behavior.

Ask open questions and keep an open mind. Open questions create space for them to reflect and speak thoughts aloud. This can help them with emotional processing, and help you with understanding their inner world.

Offer labels or ways to describe how they are feeling. This could be especially helpful for younger kids who may have a more limited emotion vocabulary. Some studies show that when we hear or say a word that feels like it fits for how we feel inside, the emotional center of our brains automatically calms down. Being able to recognize and name feelings is important for building their ability to manage their emotions.

Validate these emotional experiences. We cannot help what we feel, even if we know it is not logical or helpful sometimes. With many experiences being so new and big, children often have big feelings in situations that do not seem to affect others. To have an adult validate their feelings as right or normal helps them trust themselves and feel understood.

Some feelings can be very big and scary. Supporting them in feeling and understanding their emotions can help them ride it out, so they can experience how things will eventually get better. Being able to sit with uncomfortable emotions without shutting down or running away from it is part of resilience."
Resilience in the classroom

SEL to boost resilience

As mentioned above, there are external factors that contribute to resilience, as well as internal factors. Social-emotional learning (SEL) can help develop the internal elements of resilience.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified five key social and emotional competencies (at the core of the wheel above), and each of them is essential to building resilience in children and youth:

Self-awareness: Developing self-awareness involves understanding one's own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. By learning to recognize and label their emotions, children and youth can become more resilient to stress and adversity. A focus on social emotional learning can help students develop self-awareness by providing opportunities to reflect on their emotions and behaviors, such as journaling or self-assessments.

Self-management: Self-management involves the ability to regulate one's emotions and behaviors in a positive way. By learning effective coping strategies, such as deep breathing or positive self-talk, children and youth can become more resilient to challenges. Social emotional learning can help students develop self-management skills by providing opportunities to practice and receive feedback on these strategies.

Social awareness: Developing social awareness involves understanding and empathizing with others' emotions and perspectives. By learning to recognize and respond to others' emotions, children and youth can build stronger relationships and feel more connected to others. Social emotional learning can help students develop social awareness by providing opportunities to practice empathy and perspective-taking, such as through role-playing or service projects.

Relationship skills: Developing relationship skills involves building positive relationships with others. By learning effective communication and conflict resolution strategies, children and youth can build stronger relationships and feel more supported. Social emotional learning can help students develop relationship skills by providing opportunities to practice these strategies in a safe and supportive environment, such as through peer mediation or collaborative projects.

Responsible decision-making: Developing responsible decision-making involves making choices that are ethical, safe, and considerate of others. By learning to evaluate the potential outcomes of their decisions, children and youth can make more informed choices and feel more in control of their lives. Social emotional learning can help students develop responsible decision-making skills by providing opportunities to practice decision-making in a structured and supportive environment, such as through case studies or group discussions.

A focus on social emotional learning in the classroom can help build child and youth resilience by addressing each of these core competencies. Click the link below to learn more.


Wellbeing BC

This site that was put together with funding from the Ministry of Education provides some starting points for educators wanting to strengthen their SEL practice or schools hoping to embark on system-wide change.


UBC SEL resources

This site is a hub for resources connected with SEL. From learning videos to classroom lessons and handouts, there is a lot to explore.



SEL BC  is a network of educators and researchers interested in social-emotional learning in BC. They offer learning and connection opportunities, as well as links to examples of what schools within the province are doing around SEL.

Resources for resilience

Books to build resilience

Books can provide inroads to conversations about important topics, and resilience is no exception. This list of books about resilience provides some great suggestions for elementary and middle readers. These books help children learn self-talk language to manage adversity, present examples of resourcefulness during times of distress, and encourage connections with helpful supports. Bonus points for reading one of these together with your child or student!

And for those looking for reading to strengthen your professional practice, Dr. Michael Ungar's Resilience Research Centre has put out two helpful resources for organizations working with children and youth and schools:

What works: A Manual for designing programs that build resilience

This free manual is a guide for people and organizations who are looking to develop programs specifically to strengthen resilience. However, even if your school is not focused on this goal at the moment, the manual also provides an in-depth understanding of the elements necessary to foster resilience that can be applied on an individual level. Factors such as building relationships, strengthening sense of identity, opportunities for power and control, and developing a sense of belonging should all be considered when thinking about ways to strengthen resilience of students at school or participants in a school or community program.


R2 Resilience: A manual for educators

The core idea at the heart of all of the lessons and strategies in the 12 modules in this manual is that there are both internal and external factors necessary for resilience. In their words:

"There are two types of protective factors involved in resilience:

The Rugged Qualities that reside within all of us
The Resources that support us

Rugged protective factors are changeable internal qualities, such as our level of self-esteem, optimism, mindfulness, and our ability to set goals and think critically.
Elementary students may better understand rugged qualities as “our traits” or “our talents” which can be used to help us fix a problem by ourselves or to help others.

Resources can include experiences of control, meaningful relationships with others, access to services and supports, structure and routine, and a positive peer group."

Read more about these definitions, and ways to help your students build these attributes by downloading the manual.

...And don't forget about SD63's Mental Wellness Hub

This site compiles both local and online mental health and wellness resources for families and educators, including information about SEL and resilience, and is updated monthly with new resources.
SD63's Mental Wellness Hub