In the second of a three-part series on Dr. Tatyana Barankin and Dr. Nazilla Khanlou’s work Growing Up Resilient: Ways to Build Resilience in Children and Youth, this blog post will discuss the factors affecting resilience and provide some ways to promote resilience.
Promoting resilience requires understanding the protective and risk factors in a young person’s life. Protective factors improve the likelihood that a youth will be resilient and mitigate the negative influences in their life. Conversely, risk factors create obstacles and inhibit a child’s ability to develop resilience.
According to Dr. Barankin and Dr. Khanlou, “Risk and protective factors do not occur in a vacuum, nor do they exist independently of one another. Young people’s resilience is determined by the interplay of individual characteristics, the characteristics of the families within which they live, and the characteristics of their physical and social environments.”
On a positive note, protective factors can be introduced to help young people develop resilience and meet their potential, even if some risk factors cannot be changed.
Although resilience involves a complex network of factors, it can be promoted by strengthening individual, family, and environmental factors.
Individual Factors Affecting Resilience
Every young person has individual factors that contribute to determining their resilience level. Individual factors are comprised of both inborn and acquired characteristics. Dr. Barankin and Dr. Khanlou discuss eight individual factors that influence our resilience:
Temperament includes how you relate to others around you and react to different situations, as well as your mood, attention span, persistence, and adaptability. A child’s temperament, one of the most critical factors in their development, is impacted by their environment. Growing Up Resilient recommends the following resilience-building tips:
- Help youth become aware of their feelings and how they could impact their social-emotional development.
- Help youth learn social skills to improve cooperation and collaboration with others.
- Set the example by modelling positive behaviours and temperament for youth.
- If you identify a young person in need of assistance, seek the assistance of a counsellor.
- Provide a predictable, consistent environment for children with a more difficult temperament.
- Focus on social skill development and coping mechanisms for youth with more difficult temperaments.
A child’s learning strengths refer to the information and skills they learn in their formal and informal education. It includes the way youth acquire, absorb, and apply knowledge. To build resilience, youth need to:
- Become involved in extracurricular activities and clubs.
- Channel their physical energy into positive, healthy outlets that involve physical activity.
- Be involved in the decision-making process for simple problems and monitor their basic development.
- Develop problem-solving skills.
Feelings and Emotions
Effectively experiencing, managing, and expressing feelings and emotions is an important part of resilience. To help a child become more resilient:
- Children should be encouraged to express their feelings and emotions appropriately.
- Children must learn how to communicate their feelings effectively.
- Adults should pay attention to a youth’s feelings and emotions and teach empathy.
- Children should be taught coping mechanisms, relaxation techniques, and how to use “I” language to communicate their feelings effectively.
- Adults should model appropriate conflict resolution skills, get help for children having difficulty controlling their emotions, and teach youth rational ways of addressing problems when upset.
A youth’s self-concept includes their identity, self-esteem, and view of themselves. Adolescence can be an incredibly challenging time when young people are navigating many physiological, social, and intellectual changes trying to figure out who they are as individuals. To enhance resilience, Dr. Barankin and Dr. Khanlou recommend:
- Assisting children to overcome setbacks rather than impress upon them the need for constant success.
- Provide chances for youth to develop a positive self-concept.
- Ensuring young people know they are loved and supported.
- Encouraging youth to become involved in extracurricular activities and develop interests.
- Support young people to face their problems, especially those that may threaten their self-esteem and identity.
- Model positive attitudes about your self-concept and effectively demonstrate resilience when faced with your own challenges.
Ways of Thinking
A child’s ways of thinking refer to their self-talk. These silent thoughts reveal our unspoken attitudes, values, and expectations. To develop more positive thinking and resilience:
- When children express negative thoughts, provide an alternative, more positive way to regard their problem.
- Model healthy, realistic optimism about your own life.
- Help children set realistic goals and discuss ways to achieve them.
- Acknowledge that failure is acceptable and assist them in appropriately responding to it.
- Introduce youth to positive news.
- Provide resources for children struggling to think positively and optimistically, including getting assessed by a mental health worker or agency.
Adaptive skills refer to a youth’s ability to persevere, be flexible, cope with stress, problem-solve, or resolve conflict. Growing Up Resilient recommends the following resilience-building tips:
- Develop a child’s problem-solving and decision-making skills.
- Anticipate and plan for upcoming challenges to ensure children can more easily overcome them.
- Teach youth coping strategies.
- Provide young people with positive outlets to reduce and manage stress.
- Because adaptive skills are learned over time, provide youth with safe spaces to learn these competencies, like sports teams, clubs, and extracurricular activities.
- Encourage youth to develop positive, supportive relationships with people who can model adaptive skills.
A child’s social skills include their ability to cooperate and interact with other people. Children who develop appropriate social skills and learn to resolve conflict can navigate more significant challenges when they come along later. The following resilience-building tips can help develop a youth’s social skills:
- Teach children basic, appropriate social skills, such as respect, manners, asking permission, starting conversations, apologizing, and taking turns.
- Encourage empathy by having youth consider the impact of their actions/behaviours on other people.
- Model strong social skills by being considerate, empathetic, and tactful.
- Involve children in social settings to develop their conversational skills.
- Encourage young people to be assertive rather than aggressive or submissive.
There is a strong correlation between physical health and mental health. Well-nourish, fit, physically active people who develop positive outlets tend to be more resilient. Although physical health is not always controllable, the following tips can help develop resilience:
- Encourage youth to get exercise, maintain healthy sleep schedules, and eat nutritious foods.
- Children should see a family doctor or dentist on a consistent, ongoing basis.
- Set an example for youth by modelling good health.
- Provide clear boundaries and guidance for youth to participate safely in physical activity.
- Ensure children are not left out or picked on by others.
- For children and youth who are ill, help them understand their illness and foster realistic optimism.
Families, as a unit, develop a resilience level separate from their personal resilience dependent upon the strength of their relationships, commitment to the family unit, communication styles, resources available to them, and circumstances. Resilient families tend to be supportive, flexible, affectionate, and comforting and work collaboratively to resolve challenges. According to Growing Up Resilient, eight factors affect a family’s resilience:
A child benefits from developing a secure attachment to their family. This attachment provides the foundation for all future development, helping them form other healthy relationships and grow confidence. The following strategies, aimed at parents or caregivers, can help their children a secure attachment to them:
- Warmly respond to your baby’s needs in a soothing, loving manner.
- Take parenting classes to improve the quality of your interactions with your children.
- Identify other family members who can model good behaviour and care for your children to build a network of supportive adults in their lives.
Good communication with young people involves the quality and quantity of information exchanged, communication styles, and verbal and non-verbal communication skills. To create an environment conducive to resilience-building, parents should:
- Use active listening, even if you disagree with their opinion.
- Model good communication styles.
- Ask open-ended questions to demonstrate an interest in what young people are saying.
- Explain the rationale behind important decisions.
- Define clear boundaries, standards of behaviour, and consequences for actions ahead of time.
- Encourage communication within the family unit by holding informal meetings and consider therapy if the unit or individuals are having trouble communicating.
A family’s structure (i.e. the size of family, involvement of extended relatives, marital status of parents, etc.) plays a vital role in creating risk and protective factors for a child’s resilience. Although all families will face challenges regardless of their structure, the following resilience-building tips can create a supportive environment for youth:
- Involve children in mentoring programs or extracurricular activities to interact with positive adult role models, especially if they do not have many positive adult figures.
- Involve children in events and activities with older adults, including grandparents or extended relatives.
- Involve children in community programs to interact with peers and form appropriate companions outside their families.
Children growing up with parents or caregivers who have stable, supportive relationships and live in a peaceful environment tend to be less likely to develop problems. Parents have their own resilience levels, and their protective and risk factors significantly impact their children’s resilience. Parents can improve their relationships and resilience levels by:
- Attending couple therapy sessions to manage conflict and improve your relationship.
- Exploring mediation therapy following a separation or divorce to ensure the needs of the children are met.
- Seeking parenting and relationship advice from trusted members of the family or community.
Effective parents use an authoritative parenting style as opposed to a permissive or authoritarian style. Children raised by a parent using an authoritative style tend to be psychologically healthier, have better social skills, develop effective problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills, have more confidence, a greater sense of responsibility, and are more resilient. Authoritative parents promote resilience by:
- Expressing warmth and love and providing a nurturing environment, even when circumstances are difficult.
- Providing firm, fair, and, when needed, flexible rules which are clearly defined. Children should also understand the rationale behind your rules.
- Providing consequences before rules are broken.
- Using discipline as a form of teaching, not punishment.
- Apologizing when you make mistakes.
- Developing and communicating appropriate expectations and standards of behaviour for children based on their stage of development.
- Demonstrating an interest in their children, as well as their interests.
- Teaching essential life skills, including social, conflict-resolution, and decision-making skills.
- Using reasoning, not verbal or physical abuse.
- Allowing their children to experience difficulties without being overprotective. Instead, help children find appropriate solutions and navigate the challenge.
- Encouraging older children to develop their own opinions and beliefs, cultivate their need for independence, and collaborate to make decisions that affect them.
- Monitoring their children’s friends and activities to ensure their safety.
The quality of sibling relations can act as a protective or risk factor. Healthy relationships provide youth with a support network, giving them opportunities to learn social skills such as sharing and cooperation. The health of sibling relations depends on several factors, including the birth order, age gap between siblings, size of the family, parenting style, and events like adoption, separation or divorce, and blending of families. Dr. Barankin and Dr. Khanlou recommend the following resilience-building tips:
- Dedicate time to each child.
- Involve each child in extracurricular activities based on their interests to allow them to form their own identity.
- Encourage cooperation, not competition, between siblings.
- Acknowledge that each young person is different, with personal strengths and difficulties.
Parents with good physical and mental health provide protective factors for their children. By modelling healthy habits, parents set a positive example for their children. Conversely, parents with health problems may create a risk factor for their children. Although sometimes a parents’ health is beyond their control, parents can help their children by:
- Leading a healthy, physically active lifestyle and engaging in hobbies, interests, and activities that relieve stress and provide enjoyment.
- Proactively take care of yourself by eating healthy food, exercising, and maintaining healthy sleeping habits.
- Seeking medical care when needed and maintaining regularly scheduled check-ups.
- If a parent has a health issue, find other trusted adults to spend time with their children.
Support Outside the Family
For a child to develop healthily, having a support network of people and community resources is essential to their growth. The following resilience-building tips are recommended:
- Encourage youth to take advantage of community resources and programs where they can find strong adult role models and develop connections with their peers.
- Encourage youth to develop positive, trusting relationships with a teacher or school counsellor.
- Use community health and social services agencies to support your child’s development.
An interplay of environmental factors contributes to an individual’s resilience. Growing Up Resilient explains, “The characteristics of the environments (communities or societies) in which people live can profoundly affect their health, growth and resilience.” Dr. Barankin and Khanlou identify four environmental factors that impact young people’s resilience.
Inclusive communities provide youth with a sense of belonging, limit conflict by promoting justice, equity, respect and diversity, and provide extracurricular opportunities and supportive community resources. Inclusion removes barriers, makes services and supports accessible, promotes self-esteem, and assists youth in reaching their potential. Many factors come together to help form the identity of a young person. Dr. Barankin and Dr. Khanlou identify gender and culture as two powerful forces that shape our identity and recommend the following resilience-building tips:
- Teach young people to cultivate and maintain a positive outlook about both genders.
- Recognize gender roles are social constructs and can differ depending on the time or culture.
- Encourage gender equality.
- Demonstrate cultural respect and sensitivity for traditions, educating youth about other cultural teachings and practices.
- Explore opportunities for youth to become involved in their community and interact with different cultural groups.
- Address and take steps to eliminate negative stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.
A young person’s social conditions are determined by their family’s income, education and neighbourhood, the media, and the availability of accessible community resources. In particular, Growing Up Resilient focuses on two powerful influences on youth, the socio-economic conditions and the media. A family’s socio-economic condition impacts its ability to meet the needs of its members and shapes many aspects of their lives, including what services and resources are available to them. Media impacts a youth’s values, attitudes, or behaviours and their view of society. The following are recommended resilience-building tips:
- Persuade all levels of government to fund social programs to support the community and provide safe, affordable housing, before and after school nutrition programs, child care programs, training centres and job-creation programs for adults, sufficient social safety nets for families, accessible community programming, and high-quality public schools.
- Form neighbourhood, school, or community committees to make positive social change.
- Persuade government organizations to provide and maintain guidelines for media programming targeted at children and youth.
- Support media that conveys positive messages to youth and promotes values consistent with your beliefs.
- Help youth think critically about media.
- Advocate for media to accurately and realistically portray youth, including respecting diversity.
Access to systems, programs, and resources that promote resilience, such as social services, extracurricular activities, public health, and school programs, is an important protective factor for children. Here are some things that schools, parents, and governments can do to promote resilience:
- Offer programming to involve young people in volunteer opportunities.
- Provide services that offer children daily physical activity, mental health services, English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) programs, and academic support (i.e. guidance counsellors, education assistants, etc.).
- Employ qualified staff with diverse backgrounds.
- Provide orientation programs to help students with higher needs or students transition into new environments.
- Involve parents in their children’s education.
- Encourage governments to provide social services and access to health care, pass legislation to protect communities, and launch information and public health campaigns.
Participation in meaningful activities provides young people with the opportunity to develop resilience. Being involved in hobbies, activities, or community service allows students to build valuable life skills, develop self-confidence, form a stronger identity, build relationships with role models and peers, have a positive outlet for stress relief, and instill a sense of duty and service to others. To develop resilience, youth should:
- Participate in volunteer or community service opportunities.
- Be involved in the decision-making process of organizations they belong to. A student council in a school is an excellent opportunity for students to give feedback and develop a stronger connection to that community.
- Participate in meaningful activities that interest them.
- Attend career or workplace training programs.