Resilence, Stress, and School

Workshop from: Gordon Neufled, PhD.

At the PSA Super-conference that I attended in Vancouver, BC Dr. Neufeld explored the idea of optimal functioning in and outside the classroom. Neufeld started his presentation defining resilience: the capacity to return to optimal functioning or to thrive under duress. The children in our classrooms are the children who are facing this duress. Children today are performing at school in a stressful environment and there is no rest to the end of their days, and no sense of attachment; instead they turn to their peers.

In order to function properly, children need three things: Play, Rest, and Feeling. Play and Depression are opposites in the brain, and how do we know when our children bounce back from depression? They play. When children find play they find rest. Play is where the emotion comes out and takes care of us. Without play, emotion takes over us. It is important that our children feel their emotions. Feeling is the feedback to emotions. When the brain has no option it will cut back on those feelings.

When children are living in stressful environments their brains are always performing optically and not functioning optimally. For example: When you go up on stage to present your brain turns to performance mode and you forget how scared you are to present and you don’t feel the emotion until you get off the stage. Children are attending school and when they return home at the end of the day they don’t have that sense of relief.

Typical stress responses from children are:

More emotion: primal emotions activate solutions to stressful situations.

Less Feeling – Some feelings that are most likely to be inhibited from this behavior are:

feelings of woundedness (hurt, feelings, anguish, pain)
feelings of dependence (emptiness, neediness, missing, loneliness, insecurity)
feelings of shyness and timidity
feelings of embarrassment including blushing
feelings of shame (that something is wrong with me)
feelings of futility (sadness, disappointment, grief, sorrow)
feelings of alarm (apprehension, unsafe, anxiety and fear)
feelings of caring (compassion, empathy, devotion, concern, provide for, meet needs of, treasure, invested in)
feelings of responsibility (feel bad, remorse, make things work for, take the lead concerning, make things better for)
If children can’t feel it’s like a prison. Their loss of empathy is turning into a loss for caring.

Lastly, Less Rest and Play: When children are stressed their systems are switched to work mode and they don’t get the pure play they need. Since attachment serves survival, what distresses them most is facing separation.

Every classroom has a child who may be facing trauma, loss, separation and that can be a very distressing experience. Students could also be dealing with a bad home life or a sense of belonging. School is stressful for students. With this feeling of separation comes a demand for attachment rises. Children go to school which creates a separation from adult figures. A student who does not feel a sense of attachment from their teachers then look to peers. Because students are forced to learn and come to school, the students start to show up only because their friends are there; not because they are excited to learn.

Children are starting to revolve around each other instead of by elders. This isn’t okay because the earlier the separation from elders the more premature the children is. Peer-relationships should not revolve around each other. This creates a youth culture. The culture comes from what is popular. Our children are looking at each other for cues. Planets don’t revolve around other planets they revolve around the sun. Siblings do not revolve around other siblings they revolve around their parents. One would think, “When my student gets home from school they are away from peers”. This is incorrect information because the internet is giving children a no end of the day feeling!

If children are not feeling they are expressing. This behavior leads children to engage in higher-risk activities. According to Dr.Neufeld, “children who don’t express their feelings will create high adrenaline. 1/5 girls cut/burn in their lives”. This lack of alarm is driving our children’s behavior which then turns into frustration and impulsive actions.

Performance suffers when facing separation and this is why teachers need to make sure they build teacher-student relationships; especially for those students who do not have it at home. Lost of restfulness and playfulness is a vicious cycle. Loss of feeling (from wounding situations) creates a loss of empathy (stuck, and no alarm PTSD) which leads to more wounding (peer orientation/separation), and creates even more isolation.

This emotional hardening is pushing our children to:

no longer talk about distress/hurt. When we ask our children, “How was your day”? we get a response like, “good”…
no longer reads rejection.
no longer given sadness.
no longer feels need/dependent.
no longer visibly affected by a loss.
better able to function or perform.
What children need to bounce back?

Children need to feel SAD enough (when up against that which one cannot change). Children need to feel SAFE enough (from wounding and separation; having a safe place to cry). Children need to feel STRONG enough (confidence in the face of adversity and discomfort). This will create an overall safe relationship for our children.

When children get let down they tend to fix themselves by climbing right back up the way they got let down. Instead of working up the letdown path they need to work towards the bouncing back path. We cannot teach children resilience its emotion. The pivotal turning point in resilience is SADNESS. Create this sense of relationship and attachment in the classroom. Let kids play. Not the play on the playground or the play from video games when you feel stimulation, but the play you have from music, choir, drama, theatre. Schools, through providing emotional playgrounds can harness the powerful nature of emotion.





4 thoughts on “Resilence, Stress, and School

  1. Your blog looks great and I love this post! I agree with the importance of play and how our students really need it to take a step away from the stress of school or what might be going on in their lives. My K/1’s have time for play every day because my sponsor always sets time aside for centers and group activities. Sometimes we forget how little these kids are and that they may still be transitioning from being at home with their family and that can be stressful/sad for them. In my mind, having playtime (especially for primary kids) is something they relate to because they do it at home. It’s almost like their little piece of home while they’re at school and I think it’s important to let students have that.


    1. Thank you Kaitlin! I agree with what you said here and I believe it is important to add in a version of “play” for the intermediate grades as well. Our students need a system where they can shut their brains off and rest because with social media there is no shut-off zone for our students.


  2. This is a great read Shayla! Gordon Neufled’s has some great points. I agree with the importance of play and that school is that safe space for a lot of our students. Did he mention within his workshop any great activities you can do to ensure you are building those relationships and sense of attachment with your students primary or intermediate?


    1. Thank you! You can start with simple techniques that we learn in class such as, saying hello and goodbye every day, appealing to their interests, attend outside activities that your students participate in, let students inside your world, let students have a voice, and even having students write letters to you as the teacher on what makes them who they are!
      I hope this helps!


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