Three ways to teach young people to build their resilience skills

Resilience.  It’s a word so frequently used in the field of mental health and a word I so frequently heard being used in discussions with students in school – ‘You must be resilient’  or ‘you must draw on your resilience to face these challenges (insert challenge be it academic or personal here).  ‘Resilience’ is even a term used in many school mottos.  But telling a young person to be resilient isn’t really fair when the term is quite abstract and can mean many different things depending on the definition you use or who you are talking to.

This is why I really enjoyed working on a recent project with Minds Ahead where another consultant and myself got to use our knowledge to teach young people how to be resilient rather than just telling them to be.  This is something that in the classroom I didn’t really have too much time to think about whilst I was trying to fit the Psychology A Level specification into the term (plus revision time) or when I was considering how the Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting fitted into my lesson plans but having had the time to reflect on it, have realised that teaching young people how to be resilient could teach them skills to manage the ups and downs that life can throw at you and may actually be more important than any psychological study I taught my students!

When you break it down there are about 35 different skills you can use to develop your ability to be resilient.  Each one can be taught through scenario’s and can be explained easily to young people compared to the abstract term ‘resilience’.  Three ways that you can teach a young person resilience is as follows:

  • To ask them what ‘attitude’ they could choose to have in a given situation.

Attitude is not often a word used with a positive lens when it comes to discussions between students and teachers, but the ‘attitude’ one can use to have can be optimistic, pessimistic, productive or dismissive amongst many others.  By reminding students that they can choose and change their attitude you are tapping into the ABC cognitive theory that your attitude affects your beliefs which affects your actions in a situation.

  • To ask them how they balance their time?

Many of you may have heard of the 8/8/8 rule… 8 hours of play, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of studying however by reminding students that there is a balance to be had you can start a tutor group conversation about things that people to do relax when stressed.  This is a key part of resilience – giving ourselves the opportunity to relax, to rebuild and then be ready to tackle or face a situation where our resilience is needed

  • To discuss with them what would an ‘inner coach?’ say?

Your ‘inner critic’ might say negative comments to you such as ‘you’re no good at this’ but an inner coach will ask questions such as ‘what would you like to achieve?’ ‘who can help you?‘what will you do first?’. These questions can be far more powerful in helping students be resilient and making actions towards a goal where resilience may need to be shown.

Consider have you already had these conversations with students rather than using the word resilience?

Whilst there have been common factors between this project and the resilience Masters module I teach with Leeds Beckett University, I’ve been reminding myself to keep my secondary school teachers hat on.  With this hat on, my reflection is that it would be so powerful if this had been part of my teacher training or CPD.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please email me at