Resilience: What is it, and why is it important?

For those interested in APA's steps to building resilience:

Hello everyone and welcome back to our weekly blog post. I’m very excited to start writing these again, and I want to mention my appreciation for some co-workers that helped me with some new topic ideas. One of their suggestions was this week’s topic, resilience! Some of you may know that we just recently hosted our first ever conference, Sowing the Seeds of Resilience. It was originally planned as an in-person conference, but I think everyone at Saffron and our speakers showed adaptability and their own resilience as we shifted to an online platform. Funny how things work out! A huge shout-out to everyone at Saffron, our speakers and our attendees for making our new and sometimes daunting experience with an online conference a huge success. I really enjoyed the work I did with our conference, and I think talking about resilience will continue to be important for a long time. So, let’s talk about it now!

First, as always, I asked our lovely social media followers “do you think you are resilient?” 8 people said yes, and one person said no. It’s good to see that most people see themselves as resilient, and I hope learning more about it can help those who don’t! I also asked “what does resilience mean to you” and received answers such as “growth, strength, patience, acceptance” and “persevering through and coming out on the other side.” I think this shows how resilience can be defined as being many different qualities, or as an action we can take.

But what is the definition of resilience? According to psychologists, process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. The American Psychological Association also notes that: “As much as resilience involves "bouncing back" from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth” (Source 1). When we are affected individually, or as a group, by a difficult situation, resilience helps us to recover. The entire world is going through a difficult situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we all need resilience to get through it together. We rely on the support of networks and people. “Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way” (Source 1).

One question I had about resilience was why do kids seem more resilient than adults?

This was really interesting to me, because I’ve also thought that children are very resilient, but without any concrete reason behind it. From what I found, there are two opposing opinions: some experts say that children are tremendously resilient, more than adults, while others say they are more likely to be traumatized than adults. Two articles even cited the same quality as potentially having different effects on children.

One article said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that because children’s brains are more plastic and developing rapidly, it is a time of great vulnerability, but that growth can help them overcome adversity in the right circumstances (Source 2). The other said that because “[children’s] brains are still developing . . . trauma can have a greater effect on their malleable brains than an adult’s brain that is no longer developing” (Source 3). I wasn’t able to find a clear answer to the question, although more sources seemed to be in favour of children’s increased resilience because they seemed to exhibit less mental health/behavioural issues as adults. The one common thread across all the articles I found was the support from caregivers, parents, and the community was essential for children’s ability to ‘bounce back’.

How to build resilience in children, according to Dr. Ann Masten, professor in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota: “Parents are always trying to strike a balance between providing protection and the freedom to learn and grow so that kids get ready for life. On the one hand, the parents want to support their children, particularly in dangerous situations. Our urge is to protect, but children also need experience with adapting and learning how to get up after they fall down . . . In the case of very dangerous situations, of course, we step in as parents, but we're all striking a balance, and it's important for parents to appreciate that they know their children best. They know what their children are capable of, they can pay attention, when do my children need support, and when do they need to build the confidence of doing something on their own” (Source 4).