What is resilience?

Resilience is the capacity of a person or group to bounce back — to adapt or recover — from enough adversity that could potentially impair normal development or ability to function.

“Children and young adults have impressive capacity for resilience when basic protections are working: when they have the protection of parents looking out for them or the emotional security of close relationships with others (human or spiritual); when the human brain is functioning normally for learning, problem-solving, and trouble-shooting; when they have opportunities to experience the hopes and rewards of doing something that changes what is happening; and when their environment supports these systems.”

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Protective power in relationships

“In order to develop normally, a child requires pro¬gressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last, and always.”

Most resilient children can identify at least one adult who provided them stable care and appropriate attention. This is because the most powerful protective factor against overwhelming toxic stress for a child is a loving family with good caretaking. These and other safe, stable and nurturing relationships are crucial in helping children cope.

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Safety first!

Physical and emotional safety and security are important elements to allowing a child’s brain to develop normally or to heal from overwhelming toxic stress. In addition to being protected from threat, a child feels safe when there is some predictability in his world.

This is created where there are routines established and enforced, and where there are clear rules, boundaries and expectations that are openly communicated. Structure and routine that is predictable and repetitive creates the environment where children can flourish. In dangerous environments, the rules may have to be stricter in order to protect, but should not be harsh or rejecting.

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Self control can be learned

Until a child is about three-years-old, he depends exclusively on the adults around him, and usually the parent, to control his emotions and calm down. This is what gives the “terrible twos” their descriptive name! A toddler’s temper tantrum is a loss of self regulation initiated by frustration, anger or other emotion.

If adults can remain calm and engaged during these and other emotional storms, they can teach children how to weather life and become more mature, more resilient. This isn’t always easy, especially if the adult’s own coping mechanisms aren’t fully developed. Please see the following links for exercises to further develop coping mechanisms, and information about helping children develop self-control.

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Opportunities for exploration

Children and teens need to develop a sense of themselves, a variety of interests, competencies, and an ability to affect change. When they have multiple opportunities to be exposed to normal developmental experiences, they learn how to solve problems on their own or with others, learn how to persevere after failing, and learn the power of applied effort at achieving success.

This builds motivation and a sense of value, which form the seeds for hope, goal setting and aspiration.

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Power in purpose

We have all heard the adage “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Research tells us that this is true ONLY if the person experiencing the adversity is able to make some meaning or purpose from the experiences. Then and only then can stress create strength and resilience.

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