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Bouncebackability: What a Very Hungry Caterpillar Taught Me About Resilience

During the coronavirus lockdown and restrictions, I did what a lot of us did- I tried some new hobbies. I started doing more embroidery, took up watercolour painting, and decided to try gardening. Rather than buy seeds, I planted food scraps- tomato seeds, offcuts of herbs and the stones from various fruits. One of the plants I successfully grew from this endeavour were lime trees. I got a great sense of satisfaction from seeing these tiny seeds, that I normally would have thrown away, grow into seedlings, and then healthy plants. But they also taught me a surprising lesson about resilience and mental wellbeing.

When the plants were about 20cm tall,

something heart-breaking happened. One

morning I came outside to find that one of my best growers had been completely stripped of its leaves. Not a single one remained. Where the night before it had been lush and green, sat a bare twig and a very fat, very happy looking caterpillar. I was amazed at how quickly the creature had devastated my little plant, and I wasn’t sure it could survive the attack, but I decided to give it the best possible chance.

I removed the offending caterpillar and made extra sure to check every night that another one hadn’t found its way to our little collection of pots. Over the following few weeks, I gave the plant plenty of water, and some extra plant food. And with that little bit more TLC, something amazing happened. Within a few days, tiny leaf buds started to appear. After a few weeks, they had developed into real leaves. And now, a couple of months later, it looks almost how it did before the caterpillar incident. My plant, small and delicate as it appeared, was resilient.

I tell you this story not to brag about my prowess as a gardener, but to illustrate the importance of 'bouncebackability', or resilience. Try as we might, bad things do happen, and they can’t always be avoided. But resilience is the ability to bounce back after we have had these negative experiences. Partly, this requires us to have internal resources- if my plant had been much smaller, it might not have been able to withstand the attack, and similarly, some of us have better internal reserves of resilience, thanks to our genetics, or our early life experiences. But resilience isn’t just down to the individual- it can also be cultivated by a community.

After my plant had been damaged, I tried extra hard to protect it. I knew that while it may be able to survive one attack, repeated chomping could over-stretch it’s internal resilience. And the same is true for people, especially kids. While many kids will bounce back from a negative experience, if bad things keep happening, it becomes a lot harder for them to recover. And I made sure my plant had the right environment to allow it to flourish- again, something that is vital for young people. If a child has had bad experiences at home, but finds a supportive adult, and kind peers at school, that can help build their resilience. Just like I provided my plant with extra food and water, a little extra time, attention and support can work wonders for young people when they are going through difficult times.

The last couple of years have been tough on all of us, and at Braintastic! Science we think it is vital to give young people the tools they need to talk about emotions and provide support for others when they need it, to help strengthen mental wellbeing in schools. So we have developed a brand new wellbeing workshop, perfect for PSHE lessons and drop down days.

In this hands-on session, students learn how to recognise and talk about your feelings and realize when their mental wellbeing might be suffering. By building their own ‘resilience towers’, we’ll explore the science of wellbeing and why some people are more susceptible to mental health conditions. As they strengthen their towers, they will learn simple self-care techniques, and the importance of kindness and connection with others. They will take away a better understanding of what they can do for themselves and each other to improve their chances of having good mental wellbeing, throughout their lives.



Get a free taster of our most popular science show for schools, 
That's Non-Sense!


Plus science-based tips, tricks and resources to boost learning and nurture mental wellbeing in schools.

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