Fiona Morrison joins the Play with Food blog to talk about the strategies she uses in the classroom relating to building resilience skills for uncertain kids. Anxieties in general at school can also be compounded by food related anxiety. This post of wonderful tips and insights from the teacher’s perspective is continuing the theme of some other recent posts on food uncertainty.

I’ve been working as a Primary School Teacher over the last 2 and a half years (some of that time on maternity leave), specifically as a Year 2 teacher. I love being welcomed into a classroom full of beautiful 6 and 7 –year-olds who all have their own personalities. One thing I have noticed with this group of children, however, is that they are still developing their resilience skills. I have met several children who have needed extra encouragement and support to learn resilience, whether it be in social settings or in academic tasks.

I recently came across a student who became incredibly frustrated with himself over academic tasks. He had set himself high expectations, meaning that he became very self-deprecating when he thought he’d missed the mark. Initial frustration turned to tears, and it took me a bit of time and coaxing to discuss and work through the underlying issues. What he needed was to develop his resilience skills to help him cope with situations of stress.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is a skill that needs to be REINFORCED by the adults in children’s lives – it is not something we can assume they’ll develop. We have a responsibility to discuss and work through the concerns children have, whether it be surrounding academic tasks, social situations, or eating.

In its basic sense, resilience is one’s ability to bounce back from adversity. It is the way a person copes with change, difficulty or stress. For some people, this is really easy to do, and they are dubbed “carefree” or “relaxed” individuals. Others (including myself!) are more prone to anxiety, stressing over hardship and taking more time and energy to move on from a difficult circumstance. For children, this can be further amplified as their brains are still developing and processing information. A crucial part of building resilience with our children is to discuss the thoughts and feelings surrounding difficult situations (a child’s social and emotional development). The more children can recognise their responses to adversity, the more likely they are able to work through it to a positive outcome.

Building Resilience Skills for Uncertain Kids

For some children, they may be extra wary or cautious – that fits my boy to a tee. At 13 months of age, he is not active or energetic, moving and toddling cautiously to avoid bumps and bruises. He is uncertain about trying new things. However, there are children who are unsure about trying new experiences, or new foods. Here are some ways we can help our children build resiliency skills include:

  • Help children identify their feelings and use them appropriately in different contexts

    For example, use flashcards that show feelings such as happy, sad, angry, scared, embarrassed (and so forth), and discuss different situations with your child. Get them to point to how they might feel during that experience, such as “How would you feel about getting a puppy?” or “How would you feel about getting lost?”. You can link this with your child’s association to food, by asking “how would you feel about eating ice-cream/broccoli/cheese?”. This might give you an indication of the feelings your child associates with meal times so you can then unpack it further (if they are sad, or angry, or frustrated – each of these emotions warrant a different conversation).

  • Build positive self-talk into our daily conversations with our children

    Our kids need encouragement in all circumstances – not only when they’re succeeding at something, but when they’re struggling as well. Teach your child affirmations such as “I am brave, I am kind, I am loved”, for example just before bedtime. Starting with these basic reassurances will help your child to feel encouraged and build a strong sense of self-worth, which can help in times of adversity.

  • Help children learn to ask for help appropriately.

    Uncertain children may be unsure of how to ask for help when they need it, and so may respond negatively instead (such as tantrums or meltdowns). After your discussion about feelings and how to identify them, model for your children a conversation about how to ask for help. For example, if your child is scared about trying a new food, demonstrate how they can approach you or another adult about their fears in a positive manner. “Mum, I am a bit scared about trying this food because of _______. Can you help by cutting it into smaller pieces?”. Showing your child how they can ask for help is a way for them to learn the correct way to do so.

  • Teach problem-solving skills if/when it is appropriate.

    When your child is old enough, they will need to learn how to problem-solve in unfamiliar situations. Uncertain children are often faced with fear or sadness when they come across something unknown, and they will need to know how to overcome these obstacles particularly if an adult isn’t around. Discuss possible scenarios that your child may be uncertain about, for example eating in front of their peers. Brainstorm with them ways they could solve this problem, such as moving away from peers (or specific peers if that’s the concern), finding an adult they can trust to talk to, and so forth. Problem-solving skills can take many years to develop, so make sure you are always modeling and discussing this with your children.

Ultimately, resilience is a skill that takes years to build up – even adults can struggle with it at times. Our aim as parents is to provide our children with the emotional as well as physical support they need to develop these skills, and modeling to them ways they can respond to adversity.

Do you have an uncertain child working on their resilience? What strategies have you used to support them?

Thanks Fiona for sharing her great tips from her experience teaching children that are pertinent to children dealing with food uncertainty. You can catch more of Fiona’s great insights and motherhood journey over on her blog Mumma Morrison.

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