A question from APA psychologist Ron Palomares, PhD--"What are some things that are tough to bounce back from?"--garnered a sea of wiggly raised hands at Fort Belvoir Elementary School in Virginia during an APA-sponsored school assembly in February.
"When your best friend moves away," said a third-grade girl.
"Hard tests in school," said a fourth-grade boy.
"You're both right," said Palomares, who is APA's assistant executive director for policy and advocacy in the schools. "But there are things you can do about it."
This exchange got the wheels turning for the kindergarten through sixth-grade children who received special training on how to build their own resilience. The skill could well prove valuable for Fort Belvoir's 1,200 students, all of whom have parents in the U.S. military.
Materials from an APA resilience toolkit, produced in 2003 to help psychologists educate children, teens, parents and teachers on how handle stress, formed the backbone of Palomares's presentation. That toolkit, available to APA members and part of the APA Practice Directorate's "Road to Resilience" public education campaign, includes information sheets, PowerPoint slides and other materials psychologists can use to hold similar education sessions in their own communities. Forums have been conducted all over the country since the materials were released, Palomares says.
"Knowing how to build resilience helps individuals deal with traumas better and can lessen the effect of traumatic events," he says. "So much of what we do as psychologists is deal with people during or after they're in crisis, but with resilience training, we're able to engage in prevention and talk about things parents and children can do now to help ease the impact of traumas in the future."
'How-tos' for facing stress
Students at the APA presentation learned what resilience is--an ability to handle stress and respond more positively to difficult events--and that they can build their own resilience, much like building muscles, by practicing special "bounce back" strategies.
"I think about resilience like a muscle," Palomares said to the children. "Our muscles might be strong or weak, but we all have muscles--just like we all have resilience. And the more you use it, the stronger it gets."
Palomares used the toolkit's PowerPoint slides to engage children with broad questions about their own experiences, such as "What is something you're good at?" and "How did you get to be good at it?" He also used a tennis ball to demonstrate "bouncing back." And he offered specific ways the children could "practice" their own resilience:
Have a friend and be a friend.
Take charge of your behavior.
Set new goals and make a plan to reach them.
Look on the bright side.
Believe in yourself.
"The program is designed to do two things: help kids deal with such day-to-day worries as bullies and homework, and provide a framework for dealing with major traumatic events--close-to-home terrorism, for example, or the loss of a family member," says Palomares, who was part of the development group that created the toolkit with other psychologists. "We're giving them suggestions of strategies they can use now in daily experiences, and strategies they'll be glad to have if they ever face a personal crisis."
To understand just how well the resilience message got through to the audience, APA staff, including the Practice Directorate's assistant executive director of public relations, Helen Mitternight, and others who worked behind-the-scenes at the event, distributed surveys before and after the presentation to assess the children's understanding of the word 'resilience' and their knowledge of resilience strategies. After the presentation, 97 percent of the children could pick out the definition of resilience, and over 92 percent of the sixth-graders correctly identified the five resilience strategies from the program.
"We wanted to have a sense of the effectiveness of our materials, so we decided to do this as a preliminary research study," Palomares says.
APA staff videotaped the Fort Belvoir presentations in hopes that the video might be used for training psychologists on how to use the materials or as resilience-building outreach to children in rural communities with few psychologists to provide community education.
For more on resilience and brochures, visit the APA Help Center. APA members can also call (800) 964-2000.
COMMUNITY OUTREACH TRAINING
APA members are invited to attend Making Psychology a Household Word training programs, which will be held throughout the year at APA governance meetings and at APA's Annual Convention. These training programs are part of Ronald Levant's presidential initiative and will train members to use public education materials produced as part of APA's ongoing public education campaign. All members are invited to attend a training session and in turn train others in their state or division to help bring psychology into their communities. See the APA Help Center for more information and a schedule of training sessions.