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Promoting resilience in your child

by Denise Allen
Occupational Therapist
Stress Free Youth

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Resilience refers to an individuals ability to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging affects of trauma or adversity. It gives an individual the capacity to face adversity, and even be strengthened by the traumas in life that we all inevitably face. The International Resilience Project found that some of the most common adversities that children face include: death of parents and grandparents, divorce or separation of parents, illness, moving away from family or friends, robbery and having a disabled family member.

I was watching a group of young children from different families playing in a park. The slippery dip was quite new and the surface was very slippery. One child came down rather fast, landed hard, burst into tears and ran off seeking parental comfort. A second child also came down fast and landed hard. He sat thoughtfully for a moment, then picked himself up rubbing his bottom and headed off to the swings to play.

What factors allowed the second child to overcome the slippery dip trauma? What makes one child more resilient, and how can parents promote this in their child? Indeed you can probably think of a friend who seems to navigate life's traumas on an even keel and another friend whose coping balance is easily tipped. A resilient child stands a strong chance of growing into a resilient adult.

The International Resilience Project identified three main sources of resilience. The first was called the I HAVE - the external supports and resources available to the child that lay the foundation for a sense of security and safety. The second source is the I AM - the child's internal, personal strengths, the feelings, attitudes and beliefs within the child. The third source of resilience is the I CAN - the child's interpersonal and social skills, the skills learnt through interaction and communication.

The resilient child is more likely to say:

I HAVE

I AM

I CAN

At different ages children rely on different sources for building resilience. Younger children tend to rely more on the I HAVE sources, the external sources based within the family and care givers, but as age increases children rely more and more on internal sources of resilience, the I AM and the I CAN, building and strengthening their own internal sources of resilience.

Through understanding what resilience is, parents and care givers can provide specific opportunities and activities to promote resilience in their child. The following is a list of activities that parents can provide to develop resilience in their child:

Resilience is a complex concept and develops through the interaction of a number of factors. A child's genetic makeup and temperament also play a role in the development of resilience. Children vulnerable to anxiety and stress can find it more difficult to cope with adversity and may need to learn strategies to offset this tendency to be sensitive and worrisome. Parents and caregivers of anxious children should encourage their children to learn relaxation and seek help with teaching their child to manage stress and learn cognitive restructuring and the use of realistic thinking strategies for anxious situations.

About the author

Denise Allen

Denise Allen is an Occupational Therapist with over 20 years experience working in both hospital and community settings. Over the last 7 years she has specialised in providing stress management, relaxation and counselling for children, adolescents and young adults. She had produced 2 relaxation CD's. Cool Karma was created for adolescents and young adults and Butterfly Dreaming was created for children. For more information, visit her web site at Stress Free Youth

Published: February 2006

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