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February 11th 2019

Bouncing Back

Bouncing Back: The Importance of Teaching Emotional Resilience in Schools

I don’t think there are any parents, or perhaps anyone for that matter, who would relish the thought of navigating their way through the challenges of their teenage years again.  Of course, it is a time of great excitement, adventure, and exploration, with many wonderful experiences to be enjoyed. First concert without Mum and Dad cramping your style; falling in love; developing independence and so many more. These experiences help shape us as adults: they are the lessons that children learn and will take with them into adulthood. The good experiences reinforce the invincibility of the young but what about the experiences which children would rather they didn't have? The times when they lose a friendship, fail an exam, don't become a prefect, get rejected by university. These are the times when children need emotional resilience - they need to be able to bounce back from adversity and restore their emotional balance. Balance is key here because if children tip in the wrong direction by dwelling too much on adversity it can have a negative influence on their mental health both now and in their future.

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England survey published in November 2018 found that emotional disorders have become more common in children aged five to 15 years old. Emotional disorders include anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and mania and bipolar affective disorders. The survey also revealed that one in twelve five to 19 year olds had an emotional disorder, with girls being more affected than boys. Anxiety disorders were more common than depressive disorders. As a result of this survey and others, it is apparent that it is not good enough to simply shrug it off as "that's life, they'll learn from their mistakes." Why would you leave something like this to chance when we know that we can help our children and young people develop into emotional resilient adults?

In recent years there has been much research into the teenage brain. We now know a lot more about how the brain creates and regulates emotion. Scientists have shown us that although our emotions originate in the limbic system, the expression of our emotions is regulated by the prefrontal cortex. It is what sets humans apart from other animals. Humans can make judgements and decisions about their emotional state.

So it seems to me that as part of our educational duty as a school to prepare children and young people to be happy and thrive in their adult lives, we simply must teach emotional resilience.  Each generation faces its own set of challenges but I do think the pressures on today's generation is more demanding.  They are the first generation to experience a constant overload of information – TV, radio, social media. Each notification, text message, scroll through social media brings more information. Information that may be new, old, fake, true, gossip, scandal, joy. All needing to be digested. Growing up has speeded up for our current generation. The issues faced by young people today remain the same as they have always been but the context is different. Young people worry more uncertainty about job security, financial stability, they access worlds which has a rawness that robs them of innocence and is constant and pervasive.

At Cobham Hall we know it is important to strengthen the emotional resilience of our girls. It is why Wellbeing and Mental Health is embedded in our curriculum and why we have a Wellbeing Centre at the heart of the school. In our Wellbeing and Mental Health curriculum we develop the girls' self-awareness and we teach them to get a sense of perspective on life. The girls learn to get to know who they are and how to express themselves.  They learn how to nurture and support friends and indeed friendships.  At Cobham Hall we teach the girls that getting things wrong is not the end of the world. What is important is that when things do not go to plan, we learn from our mistakes. People make mistakes. We all do. Learn and move forward, but don’t let the situation emotionally overwhelm you.

A critical part of emotional resilience building is to accept that there are times when we need the support of others. To ask for help is a sign of strength – it’s OK not to be OK - and we make sure there is a strong network of support for the girls. From peer mentors to independent listeners, there is someone for girls to talk to.  We also encourage the girls to reciprocate that support. Service is an important a part of what we do. Our Sixth Form programme, for example, has a compulsory service element to it. Cobham Hall is committed to promoting emotional resilience in our girls because it will empower them, enabling them to become happier in themselves and in their lives.

We are so passionate in our belief that emotional wellbeing is crucial for young people that we’ve put together a Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference with top speakers, to share best practice and ideas with other educators. Let’s support our young people together.  Find out more here.

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