Building resilient, confident and capable young women

Mrs Hazel Boltman, Head of Gibson House

Our recent Parent Seminar, a walk through Student Reception and reading an Insights article earlier this month have prompted a deeper look into some issues that students and parents appear to face on a regular basis. Mrs Alice Dabelstein comments in her article Mornings Matter (2015), that many students in getting ready in the morning forget to pack their lunches. A short trip through Student Reception is testament to this, where caring parents drop off their daughters’ lunches, as well as computers and a variety of other items. It is these observations, together with a natural parental desire to protect children from hardship that has prompted these musings.

In his book Strictly Parenting, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg (2014) explores a variety of parenting styles and has developed some guidelines for parents, to help them in their parenting journey. This article will explore some of the tips he proposes, and investigate how we can help students build resilience. We need to help them to deal constructively with their feelings, provide them with opportunities to learn emotional and situational coping skills, and help them to develop a strong sense of self-confidence.

Looking at the key influencers in the lives of students, there is an overlap of four main areas: their parents, their teachers, their friends and their own selves. Each of these areas contributes to our students’ resilience, and in working together we can help them to develop into less stressed and more confident young women.

Most educators aim to provide their students with opportunities to build resilience, both through explicit teaching and implicit learning. In Ethics lessons and Year Level Assemblies, we explicitly educate the girls on resilience, through initiatives such as the Year 7 Resourceful Adolescent Program. For general classroom teachers the learning is implicit in their teaching. They encourage all students to participate fully in their classes, asking them to do tasks in lesson time, as well as asking questions and giving them the opportunity to respond. This can be particularly difficult for some students, but with a respectful class environment, the teacher tries to get them over each hurdle, face their fear and ask or answer questions. Participating in this way, and perhaps getting an answer wrong, will help students  to realise that they can participate with confidence even when they are not feeling certain of the outcome.

Teachers assess their students in multiple ways, and this too provides an opportunity for growth. Failure, on many levels, can be a growth experience, albeit a painful one. Teachers are mindful of the impact on students of not doing as well as expected, and try to assist their students to learn from their assessment pieces. Most exams come back to the students with feedback or with a reflection sheet. Unfortunately many students look only to the grade, going over the paper with a fine-tooth comb to see if the grade can be improved, instead of reviewing the feedback with a view to steady improvement. The resilience that can be developed in this learning experience is all too often lost.

As parents, the desire to protect our daughters is strong, and seeing them distressed and out of their comfort zone is something we are not comfortable with. Unfortunately, how we respond to their distress can often have the opposite effect to what we intend. Each phone call home, for a left-behind lunch, sports uniform or computer, can send an unintended message to our daughters. Don’t have lunch? Do we respond by dropping it off at school or do we encourage them to seek a solution — talk to their friends or enlist the aid of their Head of House. We can send them the message that we think they can manage this crisis on their own, or we can rush in to rescue, and inadvertently send the message that they can’t fend for themselves and need us as parents to manage for them. This is an invaluable learning experience.

When girls receive their academic grades from their teachers and they are disappointed, the distressed phone call home shifts the distress from daughter to parent, and can cause the parents to become upset, girding their loins and preparing for battle. Such parental involvement can prevent their daughters’ development of self-assurance and confidence. Again, an unintended message can be sent. This smoothing of all obstacles does not stand them in good stead, and certainly does not help build their resilience. While it would be unwise to advocate that parents stand back completely, we do need to let our daughters start to take responsibility for themselves, and manage difficult situations as best they can. We need to provide them with experiences to prepare them for the adult world. As Dr Michael Carr-Gregg claims, ‘If you really want your children to succeed then learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they’ll fly higher’ (Carr-Gregg, 2014, p. 71). We need to support them in building a stronger sense of self, growing in the knowledge that they are confident and capable and young women.

The next sphere of influence that students rely on is their peers. Many opportunities for resilience-building come through their daily interactions with friends. Close friendships give the students a sense of belonging and connectedness and these feelings help in resilience-building. However these relationships, as with all relationships, but especially in adolescence, are often difficult to manage. Research shows us that there are many factors that impact on a student’s resilience. Having multiple friendships from a variety of activities is a strong indicator of resilience, and, as such, students involved in a variety of co-curricular pursuits are often more resilient than their peers. Allowing students to manage their friendships and their squabbles is also empowering. Students need their friends there to stand up for them, to let them know when they are going wrong, to guide them, to harangue them and of course, to love them.

All of these areas of influence — teachers, parents and friends — go together with the sense of self to build resilience. The ability to bounce back, reflect, examine and grow, as well as to weather difficult situations and not succumb to self-doubt are all signs of the healthy, resilient teenager. As our young women mature and prepare to take on the world with confidence, they should be able to look back at their journeys and know that each of us has made a meaningful difference to their lives.

References 

Carr-Gregg, M. (2014). Strictly parenting. Everything you need to know about raising school-aged kids. Australia: Penguin Group.

Dabelstein, A. (2016). Mornings matter. Retrieved from http://www.bggs.qld.edu.au/2016/02/mornings-matter/

Wicks, R. (2009). Friendship and resilience. The types of friends you’ll want. [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-resilient-life/200908/friendship-and-resilience

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