Resilience – A master skill for children

Helping our children to build resilience when they are faced with adversity is a key element of their development and mental health.

Without a doubt, protecting children from unnecessary suffering is our responsibility as educators, caregivers and parents. Even though we wish we could avoid children pain and suffering, sometimes adversity is unavoidable, and it is here where the opportunity for children to build this master skill arises.

*Note to reader: there is no need to create more adversity for kids than what is already occurring as part as their daily lives in order for them to build resilience, meaning that one doesn’t have to make a child’s life more difficult than it already is! Now that that is clear, let’s move on…

So, human beings can actually do well despite the adversities of life! Really? How? Well, to start of, by building this master skill called resilience.

It has been found that resilience is absolutely fundamental to a child’s development, and children start to learn this master skill from a very young age. Below are two great posts from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child which explain what resilience is, why some children develop resilience, while others do not, highlighting what are the factors that help to develop resilience.

Key Concept: Resilience

Reducing the effects of significant adversity on children’s healthy development is essential to the progress and prosperity of any society. Science tells us that some children develop resilience, or the ability to overcome serious hardship, while others do not. Understanding why some children do well despite adverse early experiences is crucial, because it can inform more effective policies and programs that help more children reach their full potential.

One way to understand the development of resilience is to visualize a balance scale or seesaw. Protective experiences and coping skills on one side counterbalance significant adversity on the other. Resilience is evident when a child’s health and development tips toward positive outcomes — even when a heavy load of factors is stacked on the negative outcome side.

Over time, the cumulative impact of positive life experiences and coping skills can shift the fulcrum’s position, making it easier to achieve positive outcomes. Play Tipping the Scales: The Resilience Game to learn more.


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 the personalized responsiveness, scaffolding, and protection that buffer children from developmental disruption. They also build key capacities—such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate behavior—that enable children to respond adaptively to adversity and thrive. This combination of supportive relationships, adaptive skill-building, and positive experiences is the foundation of resilience.

Children who do well in the face of serious hardship typically have a biological resistance to adversity and strong relationships with the important adults in their family and community. Resilience is the result of a combination of protective factors. Neither individual characteristics nor social environments alone are likely to ensure positive outcomes for children who experience prolonged periods of toxic stress. It is the interaction between biology and environment that builds a child’s ability to cope with adversity and overcome threats to healthy development.

Research has identified a common set of factors that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of significant adversity. Individuals who demonstrate resilience in response to one form of adversity may not necessarily do so in response to another. Yet when these positive influences are operating effectively, they “stack the scale” with positive weight and optimize resilience across multiple contexts. These counterbalancing factors include

  1. facilitating supportive adult-child relationships;
  2. building a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control;
  3. providing opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities; and
  4. mobilizing sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions.

Learning to cope with manageable threats is critical for the development of resilience. Not all stress is harmful. There are numerous opportunities in every child’s life to experience manageable stress—and with the help of supportive adults, this “positive stress” can be growth-promoting. Over time, we become better able to cope with life’s obstacles and hardships, both physically and mentally.

The capabilities that underlie resilience can be strengthened at any age. The brain and other biological systems are most adaptable early in life. Yet while their development lays the foundation for a wide range of resilient behaviors, it is never too late to build resilience. Age-appropriate, health-promoting activities can significantly improve the odds that an individual will recover from stress-inducing experiences. For example, regular physical exercise, stress-reduction practices, and programs that actively build executive function and self-regulation skills can improve the abilities of children and adults to cope with, adapt to, and even prevent adversity in their lives. Adults who strengthen these skills in themselves can better model healthy behaviors for their children, thereby improving the resilience of the next generation.

Watch the video “In Brief: What is Resilience?” -> Click to go to video

Original link to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child:

Resilience: A skill your child really needs to learn (and what you can do to help)

As parents, we tend to think about getting good grades, excelling at athletics, being popular, getting into good schools, and getting good jobs. All of this is great, of course. But there is something that children need if they are going to truly succeed in life, and that’s resilience.

Resilience is the ability to overcome hardship and be okay. It’s the ability to navigate life’s inevitable bumps and still be happy and healthy and stay on track.

According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, there are four factors that help children develop resilience. They are:

  • Supportive adult-child relationships. This is crucial. All it really takes is one supportive, nurturing relationship to make all the difference. This gives children a buffer, and helps them know that they aren’t alone and that they matter to someone. While all parents want to have a good relationship with their child, the demands of daily life can get in the way. Try to spend regular time with your child when they have your undivided attention. Ask about their day, get involved in activities they enjoy, spend time doing things together. Make sure your child knows that no matter what, you have their back — and you will love them.
  • A sense of self-efficacy and perceived control. Basically, you want to help a child learn that they can manage, and that even if things go wrong, they can figure a way through. You can’t do this just by telling your child that he is smart and capable; he needs to learn it himself. Bit by bit, giving independence, letting children make decisions and take risks helps them learn to weather life’s storms. It’s not always easy to let children take risks —we never want them to be hurt, emotionally or physically — but with you at their back, and in a gradual way, most children can and do manage just fine. Learning this also involves shutting off the screens and being active. Learning to be physically capable is important. In being active, in running and climbing and other such activities, children learn not just their strengths and limitations but how to plan and troubleshoot.
  • Strong adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities. This is what we call “executive function.” It’s like the air traffic controller functions of life: the ability to prioritize, not get distracted, make a plan, negotiate, get along with others, and manage emotions. These are not easy tasks, and there is no way to learn them without practice. One of the best ways for children to practice is through unstructured playtime, either alone (so they can find ways to entertain themselves) or with others (so they can learn how to work with others). Consistent discipline, not giving in to tantrums, and helping children manage sadness or frustration rather than just fixing things for them, can also help. The Center on the Developing child also has suggestions on activities to support executive function at different ages.
  • Being able to mobilize sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions. It helps to be part of something bigger, to have community, to have traditions that help you through difficult times. This doesn’t mean that you need to join a faith if you don’t belong to one. But if you do, maybe you could go to services a bit more often. If you don’t, spending time with extended family, joining a community group, taking part in service opportunities together… these activities can help give your child a perspective on life, as well as strategies for handling challenges. Because ultimately, the ability to keep perspective and handle challenges is what gets us through and helps us succeed.

Original link to article: Resilience: A skill your child really needs to learn (and what you can do to help) Posted June 13, 2017, 10:30 am by Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications


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