Resilience is about how different people respond to threatening or stressful situations. A person's ability to be resilient can depend on circumstances - they may be able to overcome challenges in one situation but not in another. Furthermore, while one person may have difficulty handling a particular situation or use strategies that have negative outcomes for them, another may be able to overcome the same challenge easily. It is important to understand that resilience is not a fixed characteristic in an individual but is changeable and can be improved upon. Building and developing resiliency is a continuous process regardless of the starting point for the individual.
Resilience plays an important role in minimising the affects of negative events in young people's lives, therefore it is crucial to help them develop the ability to cope in spite of adversity and achieve positive outcomes. This hot topic provides tips for parents and carers on how to foster and develop resilience in young people.
What is resilience?
- family conflict/violence/divorce
- parental mental illness
- mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders etc
- drug and alcohol misuse
- poor achievement and school failure
- increased risk-taking behaviour
- criminal involvement and juvenile delinquency
- death of someone close
Young people and resilience
Many young people face adversity and change, and it is important that they are able to cope with life's challenges effectively. Resilience is not only about surviving difficult times, but is about being able to thrive despite adversity. By being resilient, young people can grow and develop new skills as a result of dealing with challenges such as:
- moving away from family and friends
- transitioning from primary to secondary school to university
- increased responsibilities as they get older
- single-parent household or parental divorce
- loss of family member/close contact or death of a parent
- major physical illness
- relationship breakup
- experiencing trauma
Examples of young people demonstrating resilience
At Kids Helpline, we hear many inspiring stories from young people about how they find ways to cope with adversity in their lives. They often tell us about skills and strategies they have developed to respond to challenging situations, and how they have overcome adversity and taken care of themselves. Below are some examples of these stories, based on our contact with these young people.
- Sarah*, 23 years, says she manages the times when she feels down. She finds it most helpful to talk to someone like her flat mate or best friend. On the occasions when they aren't around she has some other things she can do such as writing in her journal or watching her favourite music DVD. This reminds her of the hopeful things in life
- Seventeen year-old Jessica* finds that her experience of depression has helped her gain more self awareness and understanding for others. She has been dealing with depression for about three years now; however, things are improving since she got help with this. She has learnt a lot about herself and changed some of her thinking and lifestyle and this has helped
- Matt*, 12 years, was being bullied by kids at school. Some of this was via text messages and MySpace. Matt talked to a counsellor to get help. He said he has used some of the practical things he can do to manage the cyber bullying. He has also used some ideas about self talk and body awareness to stay strong inside and believe in himself. He says the bullies don't pick on him as much now
- Karri*, 13 years, found ways to cope with her arguing in her family. Karri had a special place she would go to remove herself from the fighting. Karri was on a farm and her special place was outside and a short walk from the house near a grove of shady trees. Here she would read books and hang out with the dog or simply gaze out over the paddocks. This place brought her much peace and comfort
- Leena*, 16 years, manages difficult emotions by journaling and sometimes she feels calmer when she expresses her feelings through art
- Balan*, 21 years, witnessed some very tough things through the bushfires. The fact he helped as a volunteer gave him a sense of being able to help out and a strong support network. Balan says he has really grown through this and now he wants a career as a paramedic
What resilience is not
Resilience is not about keeping quiet and putting up with a potentially harmful situation. When encouraging resilience in young people, it is important to avoid sending the message that it is about being the 'strong, silent type' who avoids asking for help or communicating their needs or feelings. Resilience needs to be developed with care so as not to push unrealistic expectations onto young people. Rather than growing as a person and developing new skills, such messages have the potential to increase the risk of psychological problems in young people.
What puts young people at risk of not developing resilience?
Typically, the types of things that put a young person at risk of not developing resilience have also been linked to factors that contribute to various psychological disorders, including:
- community factors - poverty, instability of accommodation, low connectedness to community
- school factors - low achievement, poor attendance and low connectedness to school
- family factors - absence of warm and healthy attachments between a child and parents, low connectedness to family and its members, family violence, family dysfunction, physical/sexual abuse and/or maltreatment
- peer factors - lacking friendships or having insufficient relationships with peers, association with delinquent/high risk young people
- individual factors - difficult temperament, risky behaviour, drug/alcohol misuse, criminal involvement, psychological problems, health issues, absence of goals, communication skills and problem solving abilities
It is more challenging for a child or young person to develop resilience if there are a number of risk factors apparent in their life. The risk of young people not becoming resilient can be reduced greatly by decreasing these factors and increasing protective factors that are internal and external to the individual. It is particularly helpful for young people to develop positive and caring relationships within family, social, school and community settings, as positive relationships provide opportunities in life. The more protective factors a young person has, the more resilient he/she is likely to be.
How does resilience benefit young people?
Young people who are resilient tend to be more hopeful, confident and possess higher self-worth when times get tough. They are more able to overcome challenges and recognise when they need support, and who best can help them. As a result, resilient young people tend not to develop psychological problems resulting from the challenges they encounter. Rather, these coping strategies foster self-growth and allow them to handle difficulties more easily in the future.
Some things that make young people resilient include:
- viewing hardships as an obstacle to overcome rather than something to be defeated by
- setting goals to work towards in order to solve problems
- persevering in overcoming difficulties rather than avoiding problems
- effective interpersonal and communication abilities to seek assistance from others
- having realistic expectations
- understanding their strengths and weaknesses
- learning from their mistakes
How can you help develop resilience in young people?
Warm and positive relationships with family members, especially, but not limited to parents, increase the emotional and behavioural resilience of children to negative experiences. As a parent/carer, teacher or other significant adult in the life of a young person, it is important to encourage and be aware of the advantages of resilience. You can help promote resilience in young people through your words and actions and, by providing a safe, supportive and nurturing relationship/environment. As a young person gets older, you can further help develop resilience by encouraging increasingly higher levels of independence, autonomy and initiative.
- social skills
- self control
- problem-solving skills
- realistic expectations
- optimistic thinking patterns
The following are some strategies to help promote these key skills.
Show young people how to manage difficulties
You can help foster resilience in young people by encouraging simple behaviours that assist in managing stress, including:
- ensuring that they are getting enough sleep (about 9-10 hours per night)
- encouraging them to engage in regular physical activity (whatever they enjoy most)
- encouraging them to spend time outdoors to help clear their mind (going for walks, etc)
- ensuring they are able to ask for help if they need it
Improve the self-worth of young people
Young people need to be taught how to look after themselves and generate their own sense of self-worth. Effective strategies include:
- encouraging them to spend time with people who like them and make them feel good about themselves
- protecting them from people who threaten their sense of self-worth
- teaching them not to blame themselves for negative events in their life and how to effectively manage their feelings relating to the event
- making sure they are able to recognise and appreciate when they have performed well
- teaching them the importance of following their own conscience so that they view themselves as good people
- helping them to set realistic and achievable goals so that they are not setting themselves up for failure in the future
- helping them feel more secure by showing them that they are wanted
- making sure they are involved in their school, work or community so that they feel that there is a place for them
Improve social skills and building optimism
Helping young people to develop their social skills and build optimism will improve their ability to connect with others and to ask for assistance when they need it. This can be done by:
- asking for their opinion so they get good practice at communicating their views
- encouraging them to develop friendships with others to improve their social skills
- teaching them how to handle disagreements and interpersonal difficulties effectively
- helping them make sense of their own feelings to avoid jumping to negative conclusions
- teaching them to handle negative thoughts by showing them how to challenge unhelpful thinking patterns and replace them with more positive ones
Improve problem solving skills and self control
You can encourage young people to develop their problem solving skills and sense of self control by:
- setting and adhering to reasonable boundaries and expectations so young people learn that they need to solve challenges within the boundaries that are set for them
- providing opportunities for young people to challenge themselves and improve on their current skills
- increasing a young person's level of independence and autonomy appropriate to their age and level of development to give them practice in making decisions for themselves
Being a role model for young people
Role models can make a great contribution to the resilience of children and young people. For example, they play a vital role in protecting young people from the damaging effects of risks they are facing. One of the best ways to promote resilience in young people is to become more resilient yourself.
Ensure that you develop your own ability to tackle challenges and negative thoughts and work on developing good communication skills. By being a good role model, you can show young people how to be resilient. Try to pay attention to them, be alert to any difficulties they may be experiencing, and spend time with them so they have the opportunity to discuss any problems.
Fostering resilience in the school/work environment
Young people spend significant time at school and in the workplace. Therefore it is in these contexts that the most important contributions to building resilience in young people can be made. School plays a major role in the protection of children, as it:
- acts as a bridge for the family and community
- enables development of a social network for the child
- is a support system for both child and family
As such, teachers and early childhood educators have an important responsibility in helping children develop coping skills and resilience. Educators need to communicate with the children under their care and make them feel that they are being listened to and understood, and create an environment of care and support. It is also important to provide positive role models for presenting and managing emotions and problem solving. Furthermore, providing opportunities for success, achievements and meaningful contributions will help young people feel capable, competent and valued affecting their self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem and ultimately their resilience and their ability for adaptation and transition.
Other ways schools and educators can help promote resilience in the work/school environment are:
- setting appropriate levels of assignments/work for young people
- providing them with challenges that allow them to use and develop their problem-solving skills and give them an important sense of achievement
- providing them with a sense of belonging and opportunities for communication and cooperation by encouraging individual participation in a larger group context
In addition to using the tips mentioned above, you can assist young people to develop resilience by ensuring that your school or workplace is free from harassment, bullying and intimidation, and that appropriate procedures are in place to deal with these situations if they arise.
"The development of resilience lies in relationships, beliefs and expectations and willingness to share power" (brackenreed, 2010, p. 117)
Who can I contact for more information?
You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.
- Resiliency Resource Centre - http://www.embracethefuture.org.au/resiliency/
- Wellbeing Australia - All about resilience - http://wellbeingaustralia.com.au/wba/all_about_resilience/
- Resilience Education and Drug Information (REDI) Resources - Government of South Australia - http://www.decs.sa.gov.au/drugstrategy/pages/resources/redi/?reFlag=1
- Positive Families - http://www.positivefamilies.com.au/
- Department of Education - Western Australia - Challenges and choices - http://www.det.wa.edu.au/sdera/detcms/navigation/for-schools/resources/challenges-and-choices/
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Updated: 15 June 2012