Resilience can wait

By 9 April 2010

Resilience is a good thing, right? It helps you cope with problems and makes you more likely to succeed in life.

The government certainly thinks so. The DCSF has funded a 22-school pilot based on the Penn Resilience Programme, which aims to improve the resilience of 11 to 13 year-olds by teaching them cognitive, social, problem-solving and other life skills. Early results are promising with improvements in pupil well-being, attainment and behaviour.

But is this really ‘resilience’ training, or is a better name life skills or ‘well-being’ training?

I don’t think true resilience can be taught—it is something you learn the hard way, often at the expense of real happiness. Through hard experience—break-ups, bereavements, and knocks along the way—we develop the resilience and maturity to cope and make better decisions in the future.

So what about children? Children who learn resilience through tough times at a young age can do so at the expense of a happy childhood. For example, research has shown that young carers develop responsibility, decision-making and other practical life skills. Yet the sacrifice they make is a happy school and social life.

NPC’s well-being questionnaire measures different aspects of children’s well-being including resilience and emotional well-being. We piloted the questionnaire with Barnardo’s young carer programme in Wales. We measured children on referral and then six months later.

The results were fascinating. Young carers’ resilience dropped and their emotional well-being increased. So maybe resilience is not such a good thing after all—at least not for children. Its a trade-off, and one they probably wouldnt choose themselves.

Children deserve to have happy childhoods, and we all have a role to play in protecting children from those factors that develop resilience too young. Don’t get me wrong, I think life skills training in schools can only be a good thing. But we need to be careful to let children be children.

Save the real resilience training for adulthood.