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​What is resilience?

Resilience refers to one’s ability to “bounce back” from adversity. When faced with a difficult life event – for example, the sudden loss of a loved one – resilient individuals are able to successfully cope with, or adapt to, the associated stress.

Resilience in children

Developmental psychologists agree that some children develop resilience through natural process, while others need assistance. However, this doesn’t mean that those who require a little help will be less resilient over time compared to their counterparts. It’s important for parents to remember that cultivating resilience is dependent on many factors and can take some time. Finally, a child’s expression of sadness and/or emotional distress, particularly following a traumatic event, is normal.

Signs of a resilient child

Resilient children may display the following qualities:

  • demonstrates a genuine interest in school
  • solves problems effectively
  • assertive and capable of showing initiative
  • empathetic toward others
  • responsible and trustworthy
  • sets and attains realistic goals
  • maintains a sense of purpose and a positive outlook on life
  • can act independently (autonomous)
  • asks for support when needed

Factors influencing resilience

Biological factors

  1. A child’s general health: Research suggests that resilient children acquire few childhood illnesses, have a robust physique, and maintain regular sleeping and eating patterns.
  2. A child’s genetic predisposition: Children who demonstrate a limited capacity for resilience may have parents with a history of personality disorders.
  3. A child’s temperament: Some researchers believe an infant’s easy temperament may have a positive influence on their ability to develop resilience during childhood.

External factors

  1. A child’s home environment: Research suggests that an organized, clean, and structured home is an optimal setting for the development of resilience.
  2. Parenting styles: Establishing rules and consistent expectations from an early age promotes the development of resilience in young children.

Helping your child become more resilient

A common characteristic shared among resilient individuals is the ability to seek support from family, friends, or even community-based programs when distressed. For children, it’s a parent, or both, who is often relied on to provide comfort and support during times of need. Therefore, parents often play a key role in developing resilience in their children. The following recommendations, provided by the American Psychological Association (APA)​, are effective ways parents can raise a more resilient child:

Keep things in perspective

When your child is forced to deal with a stressful or unpleasant event, it’s helpful to point out that there is a future filled with positivity beyond the current obstacle. Encourage your child to maintain a sense of optimism during these difficult times. This is a skill that will undoubtedly benefit them throughout adolescence and adulthood.

Encourage your child to learn more about themselves

Facing a difficult situation head on can be an exercise in self-discovery, especially for young children. Encourage your child to talk openly about their experience, particularly what it is they learned about their ability to cope with stress.

Teach your child about self-care

Lead by example when teaching your child about the benefits of taking care of one’s self. This includes eating properly, exercising, and taking time to rest. Avoid over-scheduling your child with activities, chores or tasks. Instead, try to facilitate a balanced schedule of work, fun, and rest.

Teach your child about the inevitability of change

Change can be a daunting reality for children and adults alike. Teaching your child from an early age about life’s uncertainties will enable them to roll with the punches a little easier. Change, too, is a great opportunity to sit down with your child and set some new, attainable goals.

Key points

  • Resilience is the ability to cope with, and adapt to, stress brought on by a difficult life event.
  • Some children develop resilience through natural process, while others require assistance.
  • Factors that influence the development of resilience in children include general health and well-being, temperament, and parenting styles and behaviours.
  • Parents and caregivers play a key role in the development and nurturing of resilience in children.

​Alvord MK, Gurwitch R, Martin J, and Palomares RS. Resilience Guide For Parents & Teachers. American Psychological Association;​.
Mandelco BL, and Peery JC. An Organizational Framework for Conceptualizing Resilience in Children. ​Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing; Volume 13, Number 3, pp. 99-111.
Fact Sheet: Resiliency in Children. Saskatchewan Ministry of Health;