Characteristics of resilience
A child or young person who is resilient might:
- be optimistic
- use positive self-talk for encouragement
- have a positive sense of self
- identify and express their feelings and thoughts
- not hide away from strong feelings
- have helpful, age-appropriate strategies to manage their emotions when upset
- rearrange their plans to work around an unexpected situation
- have a sense of agency or responsibility
- keep on trying if something doesn’t work out and use their judgment about when to stop
- hold a sense of purpose or hope for the future
- actively ask for help if they need it
- feel a sense of attachment to family, their learning community and to learning.
Why is resilience important?
Children and young people need resilience
Children and young people need resilience to manage ups and downs, both during and after difficult or challenging situations. Ups and downs can range from everyday challenges like conflict with friends or falling off a bike. They can be emotional experiences such as loss, rejection, disappointment or humiliation. Some children and young people face serious challenges like disability, learning difficulties, family separation, family illness or death, or bullying.
Resilience is more than just coping
Children and young people with greater levels of resilience are better able to manage stress. If stress is severe or ongoing, it’s a risk factor for mental health issues. When children and young people learn to navigate these stressors, it supports their mental health and wellbeing now and into the future.
Resilience has been associated with better academic performance and behaviour and, longer-term, is associated with greater life opportunities (including employment and satisfying relationships).
Resilience practice guide
Beyond Blue’s Building resilience in children aged 0–12: A practice guide aims to assist practitioners to promote children’s resilience and raise community awareness about it more broadly.
This guide was created for practitioners working across a broad range of settings including early childhood education and care settings, primary schools, welfare and community-based health and mental health settings.
Be You Professional Learning
Learn more about how to incorporate practises that can enhance children and young people's into your teaching practise in the Learning Resilience domain.
How does resilience develop?
Resilience is best understood on a continuum
It develops and changes over time as children and young people grow and progress through developmental stages. People may have more, or less, resilience to draw on at any given time depending on their circumstances.
To some extent, resilience has a genetic component (that is, it lies within a person’s individual make-up and personal strengths). However, it’s not simply an individual characteristic nor is it a fixed character trait.
A combination of individual, family, community and societal factors influence children and young people’s developing resilience. This can include:
Exposure to manageable stress
Children and young people develop coping skills through exposure to manageable stress in their day-to-day lives (for example, the everyday stress of getting ready for their early learning service or school).
For infants and very young children, days are full of new, sometimes stressful, situations. Even the routine of nappy changes can be stressful when it’s new. For older babies and young children, everyday stresses include meeting new people or being separated from families while in their early learning service.
For older children, being uncertain of rules or expectations at school can lead to stress.
For adolescents, not knowing where to turn for support, or to have questions answered, can be stressful.
When educators respond in a warm and sensitive manner, children and young people learn they are safe, that their needs will be taken care of and they’ll be supported with their coping skills.
Strong relationships within immediate and extended family helps at times of stress or adversity.
This support and security is a critical buffer against life’s ups and downs – it’s often called a protective factor for mental health.
Connection to diverse groups of friends is also valuable
Even very young children develop a sense of self and self-confidence through their peer relationships and attribute meaning and value to them. Relationships outside of the family mean children and young people have someone else to support them when times get tough.
Research indicates a positive relationship with at least one caring, competent adult outside of the child or young person’s immediate family is related to greater mental health and resilience. Positive relationships are particularly important for individuals who’ve not experienced close relationships with their family and can improve developmental outcomes.
Be You Professional Learning
Learn more about the importance of respectful and positive relationships in the Connect module.
Resilience and mental health
It’s widely accepted developing social and emotional skills benefits all aspects of children and young people’s learning, development, mental health and wellbeing. Resilience is a key social and emotional skill that’s a protective factor for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Feeling optimistic and hopeful are key to mental health and wellbeing
Children and young people’s resilience is enhanced when they:
- are loved by someone unconditionally
- have an older person outside the home they can talk to about problems and feelings
- are praised for doing things on their own and striving to achieve
- can count on their family being there when needed
- know someone they want to be like
- believe things will turn out all right
- have a sense of a power greater than themselves
- are willing to try new things
- feel that what they do makes a difference in how things turn out
- like themselves
- can focus on a task and stay with it
- have a sense of humour
- make goals and plans, both short and longer-term.
How can services and schools build resilience?
Service and schools are places where children and young people spend a great deal of their time, and they play a key role in developing resilience – through formal and informal learning opportunities.
Research suggests there are three major categories of protective factors that services and schools can influence which support resilience-building:
- caring and supportive relationships
- high-but-achievable expectations of children and young people
- opportunities for children and young people to participate in the service or school community.
Whole-early learning service or whole-school strategies to build resilience can include:
- implementing social and emotional learning programs within the curriculum to build emotional literacy, coping skills and resilience. You can find out more information about evidence-based programs in the Be You Programs Directory.
- ensuring support systems are in place (for example, a key educator to talk to, home room structures, provision of school counsellors or partnerships with external mental health professionals)
- providing information to families on how they can support their child or young person develop resilience and encouraging families to draw on the resources available in their community
- ensuring policies reflect the most up-to-date knowledge on building resilience
- taking a whole-setting approach to resilience and wellbeing, including promoting partnership with families and external services.
Be You Professional Learning
Learn about creating and maintaining strong partnerships with families in the Family Partnerships domain, and about providing support for children, young people and their families, by helping them access information and internal and external supports, in the Provide module.
Berk, L.E. (2008). Child Development (8th edn). Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.
Cahill, H., Beadle, S., Forster, R., Smith, K., & Farrelly, A. (2014). Building resilience in children and young people. Melbourne: Melbourne University Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/department/
Council of Australian Governments (COAG). (2009). Investing in the early years: A national early childhood development strategy. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from https://www.startingblocks.gov.au/media/1104/national_ecd_strategy.pdf.
Department of Education and Training (DET) (2018). The early years learning framework. Canberra: DET. Retrieved from https://www.education.gov.au/early-years-learning-framework-0.
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Werner, E.E. (1995). Resilience in development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 4(3):81-85.
Resilience refers to the ability to manage change to maintain and restore mental health and wellbeing, particularly after an adverse event.