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Resilience; what is it and how to build it!

What is resilience?

When you think of resilience, what image comes to your mind? It could be an aggressive tiger, roaring at its prey. Or a solid rock, that stands still and lets no one or nothing turn him down. To us humans, resilience is something that doesn’t always come naturally. It is something that you can learn as you grow up. But what is it exactly?

Scientific articles have taught us that resilience can have various definitions. Generally, we speak of two core concepts when we describe resilience:

  1. the ability to “bounce back” when something bad happens (hardship)

  2. The ability to adapt positively to new circumstances after something bad (hardship) has happened

Let’s have a closer look at these two core concepts. When we talk about ‘hardship’, we can say that everyone in their life will endure some sort of hardship at one point in their life. Adversity is inevitable, whether you live in a low-risk country or in a disadvantaged community. Every situation has its own unique challenges; perhaps you feel a lot of pressure from your parents to do well in school, they want you to go to the best university in the country or you feel anxious because you put a lot of pressure on yourself. Or,  you feel like you need to take care of your family as the oldest child, provide for food and a safe space whilst trying to do your best in school and run the household because your mother is working every day. 

Adversity can have a different meaning for every child.  When bad things happen there is one thing we can control; our response! This is something you can learn, possibly through life experiences. To show you the best way to respond to these life challenges, help from an outsider is essential. Think of how you are supposed to know what helps you to adapt positively to difficult times when you are just a minor?

Resilience can be seen as a ‘toolbox’ that is filled with protective tools (mechanisms). These tools are associated with positive adaptation in children. Every child has its own set of tools in their resilience toolbox; 

  • individual tools; tools that are internal to the child, like intelligence, optimism, confidence, problem-solving skills, strong emotional regulation, humour, sense of autonomy and empathy.

  • Social tools: strong and secure relationship with your caregiver/parent, a supportive and warm household, healthy sibling bonds, meaningful friendships.

  • Community tools: growing up in a safe neighbourhood, having a sense of community, feeling like you belong to the community, access to after-school programmes, a supportive extended family, sense of religion etc. 

Every child grows up with certain tools in its toolbox. So why would it be necessary to teach children about resilience in a workshop? It is for the simple fact that many children are not aware of the ‘resilience toolbox’ that they already have, let alone the tools that are in it. It is the responsibility of parents, teachers or health workers to show kids this toolbox, help them identify their existing tools and look for more useful tools to put in.

Why is it important to build resilience?

When something bad happens to you, it is often out of your control. The one thing you can control, however, is your own response. Your response is something that is shaped by past experiences and your own invaluable psychosocial qualities. To make sure that a child’s response in times of crisis is a positive, ‘resilient’, response, children from disadvantaged backgrounds can probably use some help. Our help! As parents, teachers, and health workers, we need to actively help our children identify their own potential resilience. 

There are different theoretical models suggested when discussing resilience. In her critical review, Ann Masten (2018) describes some of these models. Resilience can be seen as a reaction to stress and as stress relief. Other studies describe resilience as a person’s adaptability and tolerance towards frustration. However, merely focussing on stress and stress-perception as a way to describe resilience didn’t cover the whole concept. She invented the protective factor model,  suggesting that protective mechanisms buffer against risks. 

In order to help reduce risks, and thus build resilience, it is important to investigate which protective processes and factors can help vulnerable children cope with certain challenges.  For example, some children from disadvantaged backgrounds still manage to achieve academic success. This could be explained by the promotive factor of effective teaching in school. 

Every child will face different challenges in the course of its life and at different developmental stages. Resilience is not something static. It tends to develop over time and can be more or less present in the process of a child’s development. This makes it all the more important to keep talking about, and thus building on resilience with a child. Because different challenges can ask for different tools to cope with those problems. 

As parents,  teachers or health workers, we can talk about minimizing the risks for children. However, these risks are not always within our control. Children will always experience adversity, we can’t keep them free of risks. More so, when children experience adversity, this will help them become resilient. As the saying goes “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’. Resilience is something everyone can learn, with support from others, even when you are not currently experiencing any adversity. Learning about resilience can help children prepare for future challenges in their lives. 

Next week we will discuss ways to build resilience, at home and in your community. We will provide you with some great stories about resilience, and we show you a little exercise you can do with your child. 

Are you interested in the possibilities to implement the workshop into your school curriculum or community programme? Contact

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