You can’t MAKE children resilient!

You can’t MAKE children resilient! 150 150 Jane Evans


Let me just get this straight!

At a time when children and young people’s mental health needs are not being addressed:
More than a quarter of children referred to mental health services in England in 2015 – including some who had attempted suicide – received no help, a report says.
A review by the Children’s Commissioner also found that 13% with life-threatening conditions were not allowed specialist support.
The commissioner obtained data from 48 of England’s 60 child and adolescent mental health service trusts, and discovered 28% of child referrals were denied specialist treatment – mostly on the grounds that their illness was not serious enough.
This group included children who had attempted serious self-harm and those with psychosis and anorexia nervosa.
It also found that those who secured treatment faced lengthy delays, with an average waiting time of more than 100 days.

The Government is throwing money at ‘character building!!!!!’
This year’s character grants – a scheme that began in 2015 to fund schools and organisations promoting traits such as resilience and respect – are aimed at schools that use activities such as sports, debating or music to provide a rounded learning experience for children. From today, schools, colleges and organisations can apply for a share of the £6 million fund.

It is soooooo far removed from the real World I am almost speechless but that wouldn’t help children, parents and carers if I remained that way! It’s a bit like being in the desert dying of thirst and someone turns up with cake! It might, or might not, keep you alive a bit longer but eating it would be nearly impossible and you would still die of thirst without water.

What science and research, apart from plain old common sense, tell us is:
‘The social resilience of animals and humans depends heavily not only on the intrinsic (genetic) strengths and weaknesses of the primary-process emotional level, but also on how well these plastic systems have been molded by learning and the developmental and epigenetic changes that result from the world in which organisms find themselves.’
The Resilience Handbook, Ed., Kent, Davis and Reich

In simple terms, children’s nervous and bodily systems, along with the architecture of their brains, develop according to the interactions and environments they are raised in, home, early years and school.
Their daily experiences of stress and soothing shape how easily they then cope with being stressed, accessing calmness and overcoming challenges small, medium and large and are able to return to a baseline state of “I am good enough, life is good enough.” That is what ‘resilience’ feels and looks like.

Resilience is not a ‘fixed’ thing you can put in to a child and that’s it they are ‘good to go’ with a bit of ‘stiff upper lip’. Resilience is about early attachment experiences. The simpler these are for a child, the easier life will be, and the better their mental health will be.

Early life is NOT like that for most children SO what they need to build a platform to be able to access resilience is compassionate adults who offer regulation through relationship. It’s NOT about the activities the child does, or does not do. It is about WHO they do them with and how they emotionally support them to overcome challenges until the child starts to do it themselves. Even then, EVERYONE needs to access emotionally supportive relationships to ‘feel better’ and go about daily life in a more resilient way as we are relational, emotional beings.

For over 20 years I have consistently worked and lived with children, young people and adults who have ‘survived the un-survivable’. Some are able to function well in everyday life, some find it overwhelming and do their own incredible version of it. They are so resilient it takes my breath away but it doesn’t mean they are seen this way, that needs to change.

The idea that by marching children about, doing outdoorsy things, a bit of fencing (for f*”k’s sake) and some good old debates they will be more resilient to all that is causing this upturn in mental illness is so ludicrous…………….I don’t even know what else to say!

Cozolino says,
Decades of research findings across a variety of disciplines all point to the same conclusions: Those who are nurtured best survive best. It turns out that emotional resilience and our ability to learn are inextricably interwoven.

I may well try and access some of this funding to address the crisis of anxiety and mental illness our children are really living with. I will use it to help the creation of the play about Little Meerkat’s Big Panic and training relating to it with Julia Simmons-Collar. It won’t feature any marching or fencing Meerkats!!


Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans
1 comment
  • Tracy Seed

    Yes, Jane I feel deeply sad that there is still such a lack of understanding about relationships being central to restoration and sustainable change when children and adults are mentally and emotionally challenged. It is not a quick fix it takes understanding, committment and a willingness from all professionals to work together to deliver whole school culture change and mental health service changes. MIndsets need to change ! The way we view mental health and challenging behaviour is not in synch with what we know about how we develop and learn. Adopting a needs based approach, placing empathy at the centre of all systems and practices is essential. As you say it is the relationships that matter it starts with each one of us – every teacher, social worker, doctor, care worker, counsellor, etc IT IS not about choosing a few strategies and think the job is done! Hope this makes sense Im writing on my phone apologies for any typos !!

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