Adversity is an unavoidable part of every child’s life. No matter how careful or protective are the caregivers, they cannot expunge hardships fully from their children’s lives. All children, for sure, taste their own sour slices of misfortune. Sometimes the coming of adversity can be anticipated, but it does not always forewarn us. It has a capacity to appear suddenly in our kid's lives and leave them in a state of complete shock. It can strike them in any of its ways: emotional, physical, environmental, financial, educational, spiritual, social, psychological, and so on and so forth. The path our child chooses amidst the dense fog of adversity, determines whether he/she survives or succumbs to it. If parents have already taught the art of resilience to their children, the kids will not only survive but also thrive and find positive meanings in their sufferings.

So the question is: What is resilience? Simply put, it is person’s willpower to bounce back and thrive after a fall. The characteristics that psychologists have linked to resilience are: positive attitude, confidence, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to learn from failure. Resilience takes real mental/physical robustness to combat adversity. Van Breda, AD, Theron, LC (2018) opine, “Resilience is a process that involves three connected components; adversity, outcomes and mediating factors.” Mediating processes/resilience processes assist people to achieve better-than-expected outcomes in the face of chronic or acute adversity.

Undoubtedly, parenting plays a critical role in fostering resilience in children. Caregivers, who encourage their children to face challenges, at the same time guarding them from the debilitating effects of prolonged emotional distress, guarantee ‘Mastery experiences’. Parents should educate their children about both adversity and resilience. Children should also be educated that they can meet adversity under different masks, for instance; on the first day of school, while acquiring new skills, during exams, or when ambition surpasses ability. In a nutshell, through resilience management, parents can enable their children to persist in the face of challenges and uncertainties and recover from hardships.

There is a long list of characteristics of resilience. To achieve clarity about what resilience is and how it can be fostered, I will discuss only three key aspects of resilience; biological, psychological and environmental.

Biological factors: Children’s arousal is an important contributor to resilience. In psychology, arousal refers to the level of activity of the body’s nervous systems. Every child’s level of arousal differs. Children whose arousal fluctuates in the higher range are ‘highly-strung’. They are more prone to stress, and its associated negative consequences. On the contrary, children whose arousal fluctuates in the lower range are ‘laid-back’. They are observed to be peaceful, calm, composed and resilient and it takes a lot more stimulation for laid-back children to experience stress.

Early stressors like pregnancy and birth difficulties, sickness, negligence and ill-treatment upset the structure of the developing brain, mainly those parts that are related to the control of arousal. Similarly, persistent exposure to stress during the first year of life, results in development of those areas of the brain that are linked with high arousal and emotional distress. As a result the central nervous system becomes hard-wired to be highly reactive to sensory stimulation and perceived threats, and vulnerable to maintaining higher levels of arousal.

When arousal is too high, children's performance worsens and they experience physical and emotional stress. Mastery experiences are less likely and they are vulnerable to repeated failures in their efforts to complete daily tasks. The result is that their self-confidence is undermined and the ability to cope with adversity is reduced. High levels of arousals are also associated with anxiety problems in children. Anxious children might seek to control aspects of their lives, including others, in order to avoid the source of  anxiety. They try to avoid situations in which they have to confront the object of their fear. Whatever their pattern of responding to the source of their fear and worry, anxiety has a negative impact on their ability to face adversity.  

When children are strained, they experience reduced blood flow to parts of the frontal cortex of the brain that are responsible for logical/rational thinking, planning and responding, and speech. Similarly, stress significantly activates sub-cortical (inner) areas of the brains; these regions of the brain are responsible for intrinsic responses and those that are essential to the survival of the organism, such as emotions, respiration, arousal and the fight-flight-freeze response. Anxious children are prone to behaviours linked with the fight-flight-freeze response. This phenomenon, which includes controlling, aggressive and destructive behaviours (fight), running, hiding and hyperactivity (flight), and decreased responsiveness to the environment or ‘shutting down’ (freeze), is thought to be an automatic response to anxiety.

In contrast, if children’s arousal is in the middle range they are more likely to perform at their best, to have mastery experiences and to feel resilient when faced with adversity. Mastery experiences are critical to the development of beliefs about self-worth and competency that are beneficial to the children. As physiological arousal varies with emotional intensity, the children who experience moderate levels of physiological arousal under conditions of adversity are more likely to accept challenges and experience thoughts of personal competence. Hence, the capacity to maintain adequate levels of arousal under conditions of adversity is an important component of resilience.

Psychological factors: Children’s attachment to their caregivers is an important contributor to resilience. To have full and satisfying life experiences, it is very important for children to explore their internal and external worlds. This exploration is greatly influenced by the attachment children develop with their caregivers during the first four years of their lives. The children’s attachment to their parents plays a key role in the development of their beliefs about personal worth, their expectations of social support, and their views about the world in which they live.

When caregivers are accessible to their children and sensitive and responsive to their needs, the children develop secure attachment and confidently move away from their caregivers in order to explore their physical, emotional, and social worlds. And all the time the children develop knowledge and skills that make them better able to deal with their world. Securely attached children are more likely to maintain positive beliefs in the face of adversity; they think realistically about their abilities and confidently explore their world without the restricting effects of worries about competence, safety and accessibility of caring adults.

Conversely, children who develop insecure attachment with their caregivers are either clingy/obsessed or appear disconnected from their parents and other people. They are timid and need constant reassurance. Their preoccupation with security and the accessibility/responsiveness of their caregivers, rising from inconsistent care, restricts their experiences and exploration, and therefore, all parts of their growth. The other thing that insecure children learn is that adults are undependable and that interacting with them is a stressful and worrisome activity. They are likely to be highly insecure as they think that they must take care of themselves in a world that is insensitive and potentially unsafe. Their fearfulness lessens the chances of exploration, thus also impacting unpleasantly on all aspects of their development, including their ability to face challenges.  

Environmental factors: In the context of environmental research, resilience is directly linked to need. In order for children to attain their developmental potential and lead a full and satisfying life, they need to believe that they’re able to meet needs (love, care, acceptance, protection, shelter, and physical sustenance) that are essential to their survival and contentment. When children cannot meet needs that are essential to their existence, they develop anxiety. As a result, their anxiety stimulates those areas of the brain that control intrinsic survival responses and deactivates those parts of the brain that deal with logical thinking, planning, and healthy behaviour, hence, they become demanding and problematic.

Parents should understand that needs are often expressed as simple requests and wishes, in the denial of simple requests and wishes they may be denying the child’s fulfilment of a vital need. That is why responding to children with full attention is so important. Consistently demonstrating understanding to your children’s needs and effectively responding to them is reassuring to them, with the result that they can resiliently get on with exploring all that their world offers without experiencing the restricting effects of anxiety.

Recommendations: Building resilience — the ability to adjust well to misfortune, suffering, catastrophe, fear or even significant sources of anxiety — can aid our children manage stress and anxiety in a healthier way. By encouraging certain behaviours, thoughts, and activities, parents and caregivers can foster resilience in children. Following are some tips to building resilience:

  • Encourage your children to make friends and develop friendship skills, because friendship is a protective mechanism that supports the development of psychological resilience in children.
  • Attunement is the process where caregivers match their emotional states to that of their infants. With the help of empathic attunement the parents can regulate their children’s emotions, needs, and moods; ensuring that the children do not suffer bad experiences as a result of prolonged exposure to intense emotions. Also, through attunement children feel secure and resilient and they can re-group and go out to perform again.
  • Foster resilience in children through supportive family network that promotes secure attachment, emphatic assistance, reassurance of worth, dependable alliance, and sense of affiliation.
  • Involve your children in age-appropriate volunteer work. By helping helpless people, your children can feel empowered and confident.
  • Sense of order and certainty are important in maximising resilience. Children feel secure in an atmosphere where parents provide consistent and responsive care, where day-to-day routines are established and well- maintained, and where expectations about behaviour are known, and caringly implemented.
  • Teach your children that self-care isn’t selfish – it’s important for resilience. Also, parents should make themselves a good example, and instruct their children the significance of making time to eat well, workout and relax. In short, self-care will help your children stay composed  and collected during stressful times.
  • Forgiveness (forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, forgiveness of situations) is an act of self-care and it has mental, emotional and physical benefits. Teach your children that letting go of what has happened and moving forward is a key to resilience.
  • Encourage your child about setting realistic goals and moving toward them one step at a time. Heading toward that goal — even if it's a petite step — and getting applause for doing so will focus your child on what he/she has accomplished rather than on what hasn't been accomplished, and can help build the resilience to move forward in the face of trials.
  • Children learn from observing their parents’ actions. Try to be composed and steadfast, because if you don’t model resilience, your children won’t practice resilience.
  • Parents should pay attention to their words. It is not advisable to talk catastrophically around children. In every situation, parents must use words wisely because negative words and anxious tone can damage children’s resilience. 
  • Help your child do journaling for resilience development.  The habit of resilience journaling can foster confidence in children and improve their problem solving and decision making skills. They will realise that they have successfully handled hardships in the past and they have strength to handle future challenges as well.
  • Help your children understand that change is part of life and educate them about the difference between two approaches of dealing with change: flexible approach and rigid approach. Flexibility is directly linked with resilience; hence, children should be trained that they should face all types (social, mental, emotional, financial, environmental, educational, and biological) of changes flexibly.  
  • Teaching children to be mindful of signs in their body of what high levels of arousal feel like and techniques to moderate arousal are also helpful for resilience. Elevated levels of arousal can be experienced in several ways. Some common examples are restlessness of the legs, arms, and hands, shortness of breath, butterflies in the tummy, sweatiness, heart palpitations, and muscle tension in chest and pains in different parts of the body. Pearce, C. (2011) says that the most common strategy for decreasing arousal is controlled breathing. In controlled breathing, the child is asked to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth to three-count spanning approximately three seconds. In his mind he would typically be saying ‘in-two-three-out-two-three’. In controlled breathing the child is encouraged to place his hand on his tummy and breathe in deeply, so that the tummy expands as he breathes in and contracts as he breathes out. The child might practise this activity for ten minutes at least twice per day. 
  • Relaxation exercises and yoga can also cultivate resilience in children. Parents can teach their children at home about tension-release method and release-only method. In tension-release, the children are supposed to tense different muscles in their bodies for five seconds before letting them relax. In release-only, the children are encouraged to focus on various parts of body and release tension from them.   
  • Sometimes, when it is difficult for parents to put resilience (a hard concept) into words, they can take help from games. The games are the best way to cultivate resilience and self-regulatory skills in children. A child with refined self -regulatory skills can focus his attention, control his emotions, manage his performance and mood, and take sensible steps when faced with adversity.

In conclusion, to foster resilience in children, parents should take parenting earnestly and cater all (biological, psychological and environmental) needs of their children. Similarly, parents need to understand that it is their duty to equip their children with the resilience skills they need to overcome the hardships. Parents must enlighten their children that life is never even, it has both rosy and thorny paths; and they cannot evade the thorny route at all. Also, train your children that only for some time, parents, siblings, friends or relatives can walk with them on the difficult tracks of life; indeed, actual responsibility is on their own shoulders to survive and thrive in the face of adversities. If they’re well-equipped with resiliency, they will be able to bounce back and come out on the other side much stronger.