Today’s Kids Are Hurting, How Can We Bounce Back, Looking at Six Building Blocks to Resilience

A guest post from Jennifer Dhillon is the CEO of the non profit, Bounce Back Generation which supports resilience in California children.

For some students and families COVID is another challenge in a long string of adversities that are impacting educational achievement. Trauma caused from ongoing childhood adversities can be pervasive in many of our most vulnerable communities. However, now trauma seems to be the standard of our times, the new normal. Home and neighborhood concerns, along with the stressors of today including the pandemic, racial injustice uprisings, and a divisive political climate, bleed into the classrooms where children show up exhibiting reasonable and neurobiologically appropriate responses to stress. 

Today’s kids are hurting, and school can be a place for safety, learning and emotional adjustment or a place where their failures, differences, and labeling are highlighted. Whether we are for or against schools opening the science is clear and conclusive: trauma affects learning, affecting memory, concentration and language ability. Chronic stress also affects behavior and can lead to poor health, economic disparities, and emotional instability that lasts well into adulthood. 

Our organization, Bounce Back Generation, have been working in low income communities for over a decade to promote educational achievement by working with peers, parents and community leaders to build resilience. Many parents and educators are not prepared to manage trauma. Some seem puzzled that schools should be called upon to be places for emotional growth and healing. Of course they should be, schools have the opportunities to teach coping skills, and develop peer and adult relationships that provide safety and guidance. Distance learning has highlighted how important the social side of school is to having a positive learning experience. Educators know that emotionally fulfilling and supportive moments in school are the engines of powerful teaching. Without them school becomes a place where behaviors manifest but are never addressed. 

Simple But Powerful Ways to Build Resilience

Bounce Back Generation has identified 6 Building Blocks for Resilience. These building blocks are promoted by adults because most children can’t help themselves out of trauma without grown-ups guiding the way. The guidelines show that through Small Powerful Things, simple actions in a classroom, hallways, playgrounds, before and after school that help establish a basis for environments and relationships that point toward healing and give children the tools they need to build resilience. None of these Building Blocks will be new to most educators. They know what is needed but are rarely given the resources, time, space, and tools to fully improve their capacity. Now may be that time. Our trainings break down resilience to these simple steps that work with our systems-change schemata for instilling systems changes in schools even with a small group of early adopters of parents, teachers and administrators. 


  1. Protection – Children need spaces and places where they can learn how to emote and express their feelings and feel safe from further trauma or toxic stress. That can be a safe place in the classroom, a time to express feelings without judgment, or where they simply feel welcomed.
  2. Supportive Relationships – At least one person who sees them as individuals, not just one of a sea of faces or raised hands. Many adults will claim the person who made a big difference in their life was a teacher who saw their unique talents, a coach who knew them on the field and off the field, an administrator who was there when they needed someone to talk to, or a school counselor who steered them in the right direction. Relationships are the basis of learning and success, not a side-product.
  3. Positive coping skills – Kids do not always know positive ways to soothe themselves, calm down when excited, or feel better when times are tough. They may simply model what they think are adult ways to cope, through substances or risky behaviors, belligerence or depression. Teaching positive coping skills through breathing, mindfulness, using exercise, laughter, gratitude, writing, arts, and other ways to feel good today, and even better tomorrow, can be modeled in each classroom, daily. 
  4. “Can-do” – Confidence is not just saying “I think I can”, it’s found in doing the little things we are good at and building upon each skill. The ways we are talented are not always recognized in school environments concerned with hard test scores. Being able to say, “I can get through this” is learned by efforts and gains in doing what we love.
  5. Belonging – Schools have recognized the need to belong by creating mascots and school spirit days. Belonging is an important human requirement. Our basic instincts are to be part of the group for fear we might perish. Teachers know how keenly children feel when they don’t belong: someone to play with at recess, a group that supports them in their differences, a place where they are missed when they don’t show up, are vital to emotional health and thus essential to learning.
  6. Storytelling – Children need to be able to tell their own stories about how they experienced trauma, what it meant to them, and how they bounced back. Other people cannot define whether their experience was valid, they must make meaning of their experiences. Children can be taught how to take charge of their stories like a superhero’s back story of transformation from underdog to power. It’s when we retell our how we are making it through we recognize our powers of resilience.

Resilience means being able to find an unexpected positive outcome from tough circumstances. Educators who are ready to seize this moment have a window of opportunity to transform our schools. Now is the time to bounce back together. 

Jennifer Dhillon is the CEO of Bounce Back Generation (formerly Healthy Generations Project), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting resilience in California schools. If you would like a poster of the 6 Building Blocks to Resilience, please email [email protected]. We will send you a pdf to print for your school and classrooms. If you would like to find out more about our resilience-building programs bringing teams of parents, teachers and administrators together who are ready to begin the journey to bouncing back, learn more at

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