Two teen students learn how to improve their mental health resilience

How to Build Resilience in Students

May 27, 2023

6 min.

Resilience is the ability to successfully, and calmly, adapt to change.

By: Sarah Fielding

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

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Table of Contents

As a student, so much of life can feel like a game of adjustments. You face romantic and friendship dynamics, school pressures, new information, and questions about the future. The agility necessary to navigate it can be tiring, especially if you’re also coping with mental health issues. 

Building your resiliency — the ability to adapt successfully — can help you more calmly deal with these changes. Here’s what you need to know about how to build resilience in students. 

What is resilience? 

Resilience is similar to the idea of easily adjusting to something, but the concept itself is more expansive than that. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” 

So, why is resilience so important right now? It’s a skill that can help at any age, but young people can especially benefit from it. Childhood and adolescence are times of immense change, adjustment, and figuring yourself out. It can also be a time marked by discovering mental health disorders and challenging experiences. A young person might need resilience when studying for a difficult test, if they have a falling out with your friend, or when waiting to hear back on a decision from their dream college. 

However, building resilience is not a magical solution that rids them from having to cope with difficult situations. A resilient young person can develop a mental health problem. A resilient young person can feel defeated. The difference is that resilience is a skill they can come back to again and again, honing it and figuring out new ways to cope with problems. 

How to build resilience in students

As a parent or educator of young people, you have the opportunity to help them learn and hone resilience in their daily lives. There are many ways to teach resilience, but here are some of the techniques that can build resilience in students. 

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Maintain a routine

As a guiding force in young people’s lives, you can help them build a routine. Among all the uncertainty in the world, keeping the core of their day steady and stable can provide a grounded space to regularly return to when other areas of their life become less so. Parents and teachers can help young people with this by creating structure in the time they spend together. However, consult them when making it or ask about any adaptations they think would help their well-being.

Practice self-care

This is a great option for parents. The idea of “self-care” has become a buzzword in recent years, but at its core, self-care is essential. Have you ever noticed that when you hit a stressful situation from an already burnt-out place, it makes the experience all the more overwhelming? The same is true for your kids. Teach your children about the importance of taking the time to relax and care for yourself — whether it’s watching your favorite movie or going for a walk in your nearby park — and how it can help them meet challenges from a calmer, more agile place. Part of this can also focus on building their self-esteem by prompting your children to explore compassion and gratitude for themselves. When a challenge arises, they’ll feel more grounded and in tune with themselves.

A student and her teacher work on a lesson in resilience

Show them the SMART framework

The SMART framework is a tool that helps students outline their goals clearly and determine if they are first attainable and, if so, how to accomplish them. This is a good tool to try in a classroom setting, with each student able to choose an academic or well-being goal. It works as such:

  • Specific – Ask them to outline precisely what their goal is, for example, their goal might be not responding with anger as a reflex, and then have them determine how they want to integrate this goal into their life.
  • Meaningful – Sometimes also labeled with the word “meaningful,” this part is all about why this goal matters to them. Keeping with the same example, this could be that they don’t want to hurt the people in their life with unnecessary harshness.
  • Attainable – Ask your students to analyze how feasible their goal is when considering their other commitments. For anger, do they want to practice meditation, go to therapy, or talk with their friends about it? 
  • Relevant – Next, students should determine why this goal is important and how it can help with their growth as a person. For example, reducing quick bursts of anger can help their friendships, relieve them of guilt, and benefit their mental health. 
  • Time-Bound – Lastly, guide your students through determining why now is the time to pursue this goal, and how long they will spend until achieving it? In this instance, it could be committing to a ten-minute meditation every morning for one month to release tension. 

Express your feelings

Unfortunately, an idea still widely exists that children should downplay their emotions and keep things to themselves to seem well-behaved. Challenge this idea as their parent and demonstrate how expressing your feelings can build resilience. But, don’t force them to tell you anything that they’re not comfortable with sharing.

Give them the tools to express their feelings through a drawing or journal entry, but remind them that it doesn’t have to be nice, and they don’t need to show it to anyone. The point of expressing themselves is to more clearly understand how they feel and not hold on to negative emotions that stifle them. Show them that you’ll express your feelings as well, either to the family or through similar exercises. 

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Limit your news intake

There’s a point where the desire to be informed intersects a person’s mental ability to do so. As a parent or teacher, you can help students find this balance by highlighting positive stories or setting limits on reading the news. Showing them how to look instead inward and determine where their boundaries are can strengthen their resiliency and resolve. 

Don’t expect perfection

It’s critical that the young people in your life know they can, when it comes down to it, be human. Difficult events are difficult events, no matter how much they prepare for them. They might not always make the best decision or like how they handled something, and it’s up to you to let them know this is a continual learning process. Make sure you’re easy on them as they navigate challenging situations.

You teach students resilience skills during good times and help them cope and practice resilience during uncertain times. Each step allows them — and likely you — to grow and expand their ability to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of the world. 

How Charlie Health can help

Working with a mental health professional can help young people develop resilience skills and use them when change occurs. Charlie Health’s Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides them with the opportunity to receive support from trained mental health professionals across a range of areas, including resilience. 

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