Resilience is about being independent and concerns the ability to “bounce back”. According to Rutter (1985) and Stein (2005), resilience involves doing well against the odds, coping, and recovering. Resilience is important because it can reverse some of the effects that bullying can have on children and young people, and it is also a life skill that that will be useful to a child in many areas of life. Masten et al. (1990) define resilience as “the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances”. In fact, resilience can give confidence, helps to promote self-esteem and prevent children taking drastic actions like self-harming or suicide, sending a message to other people, such as bullies, that what they do is not working.
Resilience is not just something you have or don’t have. Masten et al. (1990) have identified three kinds of resilience among different groups of children. These are:
– Children who do not succumb to adversities, despite their high-risk status, for example babies of low birth-weight;
– Children who develop coping strategies in situations of chronic stress, for example the children of drug-using or alcoholic parents;
– Children who have suffered an extreme trauma, for example disasters, such as a sudden loss of a close relative, or an abuse, and who have recovered and prospered.
Therefore, when children are resilient they will be able to cope better with problems and they will also be less likely to develop emotional problems like depression or anxiety. Shortly, a resilient child can be described as a child who has a sense of purpose and hope for the future; a child able to establish good relationships with people because they are caring, flexible, independent, confident that they can get things done, and with a good understanding of others’ feelings, able to laugh at themselves and situations.
According to the Literature Review: Resilience in Children and Young People (2007), some of the resilience factors are the reverse of a risk factor, such as family harmony versus family disharmony. Other resilience factors do not necessarily reflect positive or negative aspects of the same system, for example having a better sense of humour. Some may be amenable to changes, and others not.
More recent trends in resilience research aim to understand how different factors may lead to positive outcomes and what mechanisms are involved. The modern view of resilience suggests that individual adaptation results from interactive processes among the resilience factors interesting the child, family and the community (Yates & Masten, 2004).
Resilience should be supported by parents, schools and carers. Although we can help children to become more resilient, we can’t protect them from all the things that may cause them distress throughout their lives. In fact, all children, no matter what their background, will have to face problems and changes in their lives. To get children to become resilient and rely on themselves, they’ve got to believe that they are capable to cope with uncertainty, changes and difficult times and still get on with enjoying life. In fact, adults also should show that they are resilient; it is better not to pretend that problems don’t exist: children are very much aware of what happens around them and they are likely to know if we are pretending. It is important to be honest about how we feel, and this will show children that expressing emotions is perfectly okay. It is important not to protect children from problems and difficulties. We need to have high, but realistic, expectations of them. In fact, we must always consider that every child is unique, worthwhile and has their own unique strengths. We need to help children develop a sense of responsibility for their own lives: feelings of responsibility increase their confidence. It is also crucial that children and young adults have full access to health, education and social care: with these they will build trust in institutions and people; and will be able to express their faith within a moral structure.
Adults must take children seriously, listen to them, make them feel that they are important, encourage them to try things out for themselves. In the educational setting, practitioners need to make sure they are showing enough support to the children in their care. They should give them opportunities to try new things, so they can learn what they really like to do, and what they are good at and not so good at. By giving encouragement and praise when they have done something well or tried hard, we will help them feel more confident and more likely to try again. Helping them to deal with shame or failure will give them the life skills which in turn will help them deal with things in a positive way. Another factor that affects resilience is the social support that comes from having good relationships, which are indeed important in developing skills such as communication, cooperation and problem-solving. Strong relationships with other people enrich children/young adults’ lives and their social skills, and help them to deal with disappointment, giving a greater positive way to think about their lives. Close relationships with peers can also increase self-esteem and reduce some of the negative effects of abuse on children’s development (Bolger et al., 1998).
Research shows that participation in activities, hobbies and useful tasks promotes resilience. For instance, Mahoney (2000) found that young people who participated in extra-curricular activities at school were less likely to drop out of school early and less likely to be arrested for crimes than their peers who didn’t participate in activities. Other studies have found that adolescent work experience can also help adolescents to develop a sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence, which ultimately enable them to acquire the skills and abilities required for a successful transition to adulthood. There is a huge range of activities, hobbies and useful tasks in which looked after young people can be involved: these can be school based, community based, faith based, or employment based. However, staff can be concerned about the risk to the child, or to other people, of participation in some activities.
Adults should explain to children that making mistakes and coping with tough times are how we grow to be stronger, more capable people. When they have a problem, we should help them to remember what they have done well in the past or how they were able to solve a problem. Thinking about a past success or a past achievement can motivate them to find ways to deal with the current problem. We need to help children develop optimistic thinking. Optimistic thinking is about thinking positively, and this helps children overcoming difficulties and finding solutions to problems. When children are worried about something, we need to help them think about what they can do to reduce the worry, and not to focus too much on what they can’t do.