Mental Health and Resiliency
Helping students to manage stress, make better choices, and develop healthy habits.
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If you need additional wellness support for your child this school year, please directly contact support staff at your child’s school including the school counselor, school psychologist, or school social worker. The information for these staff members can be located on the school's website.
Promoting Positive Outcomes
It is not easy growing up in today’s world. Children and adolescents are faced with adversity and life challenges each and every day that can undermine mental health and interfere with learning. These challenges include:
- Academic difficulty or pressure to succeed
- Family problems
- Peer relationship struggles or conflict
- Bullying and harassment
- Health Issues
- Pressure to use drugs or alcohol
Adults play a critical role in promoting positive outcomes for youth. Whether as parents or guardians, school staff, or community members, we have an opportunity to foster assets in youth to help them manage stress, make better choices, and develop healthy habits. Assets (also referred to as protective factors) counter the challenges of daily life. They work to buffer and propel youth through negative life experiences and enhance the likelihood of making good decisions. Assets will not only protect youth now, but into the future. The more assets young people have, the more likely they will thrive.
The Fairfax County Youth Survey
The Fairfax County Youth Survey is given to all students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 each fall. It provides a wealth of information about a variety of topics related to our youth that influence their physical and mental well being, from sleep and nutritional habits to substance abuse behaviors to symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts.
As in national and other research studies, the Fairfax County Youth Survey has consistently shown that when youth have more assets or protective factors in their lives, they are less likely to engage in problem behaviors or experience other negative outcomes in areas including (but not at all limited to) mental health and suicide, substance use, bullying, and gang involvement. The patterns hold true across genders, racial and ethnic differences, sexual orientation, and other demographics.
School officials, youth leadership classes, youth serving county agencies, and local nonprofits use the survey data to determine the effectiveness of school and community intervention and prevention programs and to identify changing trends and areas of need.
Three to Succeed
Analysis of the Youth Survey has led to the development of the Three to Succeed concept. This is the notion that the presence of just three assets in a youth’s life dramatically reduces risk behaviors and mental health health symptoms, and promotes thriving youth...and the more assets, the better potential for positive outcomes. Building assets within youth is more effective and efficient than implementing programming to prevent poor outcomes. If we can ensure a young person has an asset at home, at school, and in the community, that young person will already have three and be well positioned for success.
Know the Assets that Help Students Thrive
Everyone plays a role in ensuring that children are thriving in Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Youth Survey has investigated 15 assets within the school, community, and family domains to determine how prevalent these external supports are in the students’ environments. Six additional items measured individual behaviors and attitudes that help young people develop into successful adults. Remember..it only takes three assets to make a significant difference in the lives of youth!
Assets You can Provide to Ensure that Youth Succeed in Life
- Be available to help
- Know where your children are
- Involve your children in family decision-making
- Show respect for all family members
- Communicate clear disapproval of drug and alcohol use
- Recognize and praise good effort
- Present opportunities to talk one-on-one
- Discourage bullying and cultivate a feeling of safety
- Foster open communication with parents, even when students are doing well
- Be a caring community member who is available to talk
- Communicate clear disapproval of drug and alcohol use
- Encourage participation in after-school activities
- Give positive feedback and recognize good effort
- Having gratitude and volunteering regularly
- Trying hard when things are difficult
- Having high personal integrity
- Thinking through behaviors
- Accepting responsibility for actions and mistakes
Resiliency is the capacity to overcome adversity by responding in healthy and productive ways to successfully meet life’s challenges. In other words, it’s the ability to bounce back. All youth have the capacity for resilience. It is a combination of personal strengths and the assets available to you within your family and community. It can grow and change over time. Each time youth exercise their coping skills in responding to challenges, they strengthen them and increase their resilience and capacity to manage future adversity.
Building resiliency in our youth is critical to their ultimate success and enjoyment in life. One model for fostering resiliency in youth is the Resiliency Wheel. The wheel identifies six resiliency builders that can be provided by schools, families, and communities that mitigate risk factors and build resiliency. The assets identified in the Fairfax County Youth Survey fall within the larger domains of resiliency builders identified as part of the Resiliency Wheel. Research has shown these six resiliency builders to be effective in helping our youth successfully meet the stress and challenges they face in their lives. They enhance a young person's ability to resist risks and make good decisions. The more resiliency builders set in place in a youth’s life, the higher likelihood that youth will respond to challenges with resilience.
The Six Resiliency Builders
Give youth unconditional positive regard, kindness, love and encouragement. Celebrate their successes and foster a sense of community belonging. Above all else, all youth need a significant relationship with at least one caring, positive adult.
Here are some ideas on how to provide caring and support:
- Ensure that youth have a positive bond with at least one caring, trusted, and supportive adult; seek out a mentor
- Create a welcoming environment
- Provide kindness and encouragement
- Identify specific strengths in youth and name them specifically
- Build in opportunities for personal discussion
- Provide a good listening ear without judgment
- Celebrate successes
Communicate to youth the belief that they can be successful. Support and encourage goal-setting for educational and vocational endeavors that reflect positive thinking and belief in oneself.
Here are some ideas on how to set and communicate high, realistic expectations:
- Tell youth you believe in them and foster a “can do” attitude
- Help youth set attainable goals and strive for mastery
- Nurture a positive self-esteem
- Praise the efforts of youth; recognize improvements
- Encourage and support youth in trying new challenges
- Emphasize cooperation over competition
- Help youth plan for future educational and vocational success
Provide youth with the responsibility and chance to demonstrate their competence and eagerness to contribute and give back to others. Allow them leadership roles and opportunities to collaborate in decision-making.
Here are some ideas on how to provide opportunities for meaningful participation:
- Get youth involved in community service and volunteer opportunities
- Tackle a shared service learning project
- Share responsibilities
- Provide opportunities for leadership roles
- Give youth a collaborative voice in decision-making
Ensure that youth have positive connections with their peers and adults. Help connect them to extracurricular activities and to caring, trusted, and supportive adults.
Here are some ideas on how to increase pro-social bonding:
- Promote a sense of family and community belonging
- Create warm and positive environment where youth can gather
- Help youth establish connections with peers by working together in groups or teams
- Encourage involvement in extracurricular activities (athletics, clubs, hobbies)
- Foster the development of talents and special interests
- Focus on building cooperation and team-work
- Help youth develop a positive experience with learning
Provide youth with clear guidelines on the expectations of behavior and apply appropriate and consistent consequences.
Here are some ideas on how to set clear, consistent boundaries:
- Be knowledgeable of developmentally appropriate behaviors
- Collaboratively design clear behavioral expectations
- Make use of incentives and rewards for desired behavior
- Deliver appropriate and consistent consequences
- Take a positive approach to discipline which looks at mistakes as learning experiences
- Teach youth to be assertive and advocate for their needs
Provide youth with the independent skills needed to navigate through the challenges of life; these include social, problem-solving, and coping skills. Model and encourage healthy life choices.
Here are some ideas on how to teach life skills:
- Build off of the strengths youth already possess
- Teach appropriate social, problem-solving, and coping skills
- Talk about positive values and healthy choices
- Teach youth to recognize and respect the feelings of others
- Promote cooperation, communication, and tolerance
- Allow youth opportunities to solve their own problems
- Recognize youth for making positive choices and handling problems effectively
- Be a role model; recognize your own errors
Healthy Minds Blog
Healthy Minds Podcast
Student Wellness: Tips and Strategies
- Additional Tips to Foster Resilience in Your Child from the American Psychological Association
- Resources for Military Connected Youth