Back to School Blues

I’m sitting listening… something’s different.

There’s no fighting over PlayStation remote controls. There’s no background hum from the ubiquitous mental marshmallow of TikTok videos. There’s nobody asking if I’ve seen their gumshield/ phone charger/ glasses etc. Everyone, including my wife who is a teacher, has gone back to school and it’s silent here.

My youngest son has started secondary school, while my two older boys are both heading into exam years (both wishing they had been born one year earlier). I know it’s a difficult time for them and this year it’s going to be more difficult than ever.  Despite the best efforts of teachers, there was an inevitable loss of learning last year, while this year the kids will also have to try to prepare for re-instated exams at the same time as dealing with all of the changes to school protocols that will be imposed. Even though it’s true that school exams don’t define us, for many young people heading back to school it’s going to give rise to stress.

It’s at times of stress that we all need to be able to draw on whatever reserves of resilience we might have. Resilience isn’t just about bouncing back from catastrophe, it’s also about steering through the inevitable stresses that everyday life throws into our paths. For most of us, resilience is something that we develop as we experience adversity through our lives and learn to come through it. This naturally means that younger people might struggle with challenging times more than adults – no armour has yet been forged and defences can be vulnerable.

Unless life has given us challenges that mean that we have built up a store of resilience that we can draw on when needed, we all have to learn how to strengthen our inner resilience some other way. I have to say that this is not something that I would ever have been particularly good at when I was younger. Adversity and obstacles tended to throw me completely – as I heard someone say on TV recently, I don’t cope well with stress. That is a phrase that could easily have been uttered by me.

The good news is that research in psychology over the past 20 years has shown that resilience is a skill, which, like all other skills, can be developed and improved. Understanding how we think about challenges; recognising our thought patterns and challenging them where necessary; uncovering deep-rooted beliefs that we might have about ourselves and about life; and learning to put things into perspective, are all tools that any of us can use to strengthen our resilience muscle.

As school returns, let’s keep our young people in mind. Many of them are going to be facing challenges that will stretch them and their reserves of inner strength. Let’s treat them with consideration and have some empathy for them when stress levels inevitably start to rise!

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