Feature

APA is providing 2.2 million school children, and their parents and teachers, with materials on how to be resilient in times of stress.

The materials, part of APA's ongoing public education campaign to promote people's ability to develop resilience skills, are designed to help kids bounce back from daily stresses. They will be distributed as a four-page insert in a September issue of Time for Kids, a weekly magazine for fourth- through sixth-graders. The insert includes such tips as "Believe in yourself and what you know you can do" and "Set new goals and make a plan to reach them"--advice that reflects research findings that confidence and planning skills improve resilience.

The insert also gives examples of how children have handled such personal traumas as divorcing parents or living with a disability and encourages children to maintain quality relationships with friends and family--one of the primary ways researchers have found highly resilient kids deal with stress.

"APA can make a huge public health impact by helping kids learn how to be resilient," says APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD.

This outgrowth of the Road to Resilience campaign sprang from APA members requesting resilience materials aimed at youth, especially after the recent war with Iraq. The aim is to lessen the impact of stressors and trauma, says psychologist Ron Palomares, PhD, APA's assistant executive director for policy and advocacy in the schools. The insert is designed to do two things: help kids deal with such day-to-day worries like 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 developed the insert with other psychologists.

"Knowing how to build resilience helps individuals deal with traumas better and can lessen the effect of traumatic events," Palomares says. "This campaign is so important because it's a way for APA and its member psychologists to take a proactive step in working on prevention of the negative effects of stress and anxiety, rather than coming in after the fact."

As part of the campaign and in response to young people's stress over the Iraq war, APA published four different brochures for parents and teachers of children in preschool through high school, as well as a brochure aimed at teens titled "Resilience in a Time of War: Adapting to Wartime," which offered pointers for coping with anxieties about personal safety and family members serving overseas.

The Time for Kids materials change the focus a bit, Palomares says, to overall prevention. "There are a lot of similarities to other materials we've done on resilience--all the underlying concepts are the same," Palomares says. "We're just implementing them in a new way."

Teacher and parent materials

The resilience tips for kids are complemented by a teacher's guide and a section for parents on how to help their kids "bounce back."

Psychologist Jana Martin, PhD, president of the California Psychological Association and one of APA's public education campaign coordinators, says that addressing the resilience messages to children, teachers and parents will help strengthen the message, and might even improve adult coping skills too, making parents and teachers better role-models. Having techniques to improve resilience taught at both school and home helps children understand their importance, says Martin, who's featured as "Dr. Jana"--the source of the resilience tips in the insert.

"Children need repetition," explains Martin. "Sometimes children will try something once and if it doesn't work they won't try it again. So having adults in their lives to encourage them to keep trying is key."

The teacher's guide, distributed to 88,000 educators, encourages instructors to repeatedly bring resilience into the curriculum through discussions on problem-solving skills, group art projects that illustrate resilient behaviors and school-wide reinforcement, Martin says.

"Ideally we'd like for teachers to incorporate it for the whole year," she says. "But just knowing the materials are available and that the ideas have been addressed means teachers won't have to start from scratch when a major event occurs."

Project development

Paying attention to teacher needs has been crucial from the start of the campaign, says Helen Mitternight, the APA Practice Directorate's assistant executive director of public relations. "Teachers want something concrete to refer to in talking to their students," she says. "Their reactions to our wartime materials encouraged us to expand the general resilience message to children."

The developers of the Time for Kids materials also paid particular attention to the research literature on resilience. APA's Public Education Campaign coordinators--all APA members themselves--discussed the methods that worked best in their practice and brainstormed how to convey the idea of resilience to a mass audience, Martin says.

"Much of the research shows that children are more resilient than adults, that they have an easier time adopting the concept and making it work for them," Martin says. "Kids are able to apply these strategies to all aspects of their lives and development."

Further Reading

For more on resilience, go to APA Help Center.