Hope After Trauma – Resilience: What is it... Really?

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Resilience is a common “buzz word” these days among parents, teachers, and childcare experts. We are often told to “hang in there,” or “stay strong,” “be resilient” - but what exactly does that mean and why is it important for children and adults?  Stacey Mietus offers the following thoughts and expert resources to explain the role of resilience in bouncing back from trauma.

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Special thanks to Stacey Mietus for sharing this fantastic collection of useful resources.

Resilience is a common “buzz word” these days among parents, teachers, and childcare experts. We are often told to “hang in there,” or “stay strong,” “be resilient” - but what exactly does that mean and why is it important for children and adults? 

In the American Psychological Association's Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers, resilience is defined this way: "The ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress." 

Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child adds: "One way to understand the development of resilience is to visualize a balance scale or seesaw.  Protective experiences and coping skills on one side counterbalance significant adversity on the other.  Resilience is evident when a child's health and development tips towards positive outcomes - even when a heavy load of factors is stacked on the negative outcome side."  Check out these key concepts of resilience.

We can say that resilience means bouncing back after trauma or stressors, which is certainly a desirable trait.  But what if bouncing back doesn't come naturally, or the stressors outweigh the protective factors?  Are there things that can be done then to grow and nurture resilience?  

Definitely yes!

The APA's Resilience Guide has this encouraging message: "The good news is that resilience skills can be learned!"  It includes guidelines for building resilience broken down by age group and other valuable ideas.

Harvard's Center on the Developing Child also gives a hopeful message that "the capabilities that underlie resilience can be strengthened at any age."  "Age-appropriate, health-promoting activities can significantly improve the odds that an individual will recover from stress-inducing experiences..."  Read more here.

From Michele Rosenthal's excellent article Helping Children Develop Resilience After Trauma, research out of the University of New Orleans following Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, shows that "true resilience correlates to low symptoms [of PTSD] [despite] a high degree of risk exposure." The article covers how to foster healthy, non-avoidant (read: resilient) coping mechanisms.

From Karen Young's website, Hey Sigmund, another excellent article, Building Resilience in Children, offers 20 well-researched ways to foster resilience in kids.  She writes, "The right experiences can shape the individual, intrinsic characteristics of a child in a way that will build their resilience."

So, this post should really be titled "Hope Before-During-and-After Trauma," because these are skills that can help kids (and adults) at any stage in their lives.  It's never too early - or too late! - to build resilience.  

While our country is in the midst of dealing with a border crisis that involves children in detention centers still separated from parents, our goal is to share these resources abroad in anticipation of what is needed now and in months to come. The families - at this moment and even after being reunited - will need help building resilience in all family members.  Please help get these resources to caregivers who may come in contact with these families or children.
 

casey altman