Building Resilience in Children
Resilience describes a person’s ability to bounce back from a negative experience. Resilience is not a rare ability; most people can be resilient and the skill can be learned and developed by almost anyone. Resilience is a process people engage in as a response to adversity. It is not a characteristic that someone possesses or doesn’t possess (this is better known as resiliency).1
Early studies of resilience in children focused on seriously disadvantaged children when it was observed that not all of them (about one third)2 experienced life long challenges as a result of their hardships. Researchers wanted to understand what protected the seriously disadvantaged children who didn’t experience life long challenges. Resilience was key to their success. The focus of recent studies has since broadened to include challenging experiences that a regular person might experience. 3
Resilience should never be confused with invulnerability. 4 It is very normal for people to become upset or distressed during adversity. It is their recovery from it that is in focus when discussing resilience.
Fostering resilience in children requires family environments that are caring and stable; that have high standards for children’s behaviour and encourage participation in the life of the family. The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. These relationships provide emotional support and protection that buffer children from developmental disruption. They can also help to build skills like the ability to solve problems, communicate and regulate behaviour. 5 This might involve coaching a child to develop a particular skill (such as how to respond to a bully) or to assist them to process their emotions in relation to their distressing experience (by being empathic towards the distressed child). Parents can enhance their children’s resilience by being resilient themselves. Resilient parents serve as an example to follow for their children; they are likely to be able to coach their children to process strong emotions, and to suggest appropriate behavioural responses to difficult situations.
Learning to cope with manageable challenges is important for the development of resilience in every child. There are opportunities in every child’s life to experience manageable stress, and with the help of supportive adults, these experiences can teach children life long skills. 5 For more specific suggestions on bolstering the resilience of children, click here or contact your EAP: 1800 629 277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
1.Luthar, S. S.; Cicchetti, D. (2000). "The construct of resilience: Implications for interventions and social policies". Development and Psychopathology 12 (4): 857–885. DOI:10.1017/S0954579400004156. PMC 1903337. PMID 11202047.
2.Masten, A. S.; Best, K. M.; Garmezy, N. (1990). "Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity". Development and Psychopathology 2 (4): 425–444. doi:10.1017/S0954579400005812.
3.Benard B. Applications of resilience: Possibilities and promise. In: Glantz M, Johnson JL, editors. Resilience and development: Positive life adaptations. New York: Plenum; 1999. pp. 269–280.
4.Ginsberg, K.R.; Jablow, M.M; (2015). “Building Resilience in Children and Teens, Giving Kids Roots and Wings”, 3rd ed. American Academy of Paediatrics. Grove Village. pp xvii.