Resilience means learning to cope with life’s ups and downs. In young children it develops over time as they work through little challenges with the support of caring adults.

There’s no need for any special teaching and learning activities to develop resilience. Solving simple day-to-day problems while playing with an interested big person beside them is all that’s required.

Developing resilience

Learning to cope with manageable challenges is how we develop resilience. These necessary minor stress situations can occur daily. It might be when tamariki are having adventures, doing activities together, learning to play on playground equipment, or playing games like cards, hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo (with younger children).

There are loads of activities that young children can enjoy together with whānau where they learn how to manage a little bit of stress.

  • It may be from the physical challenge of an activity, such as making it up the ladder of the slide by themselves.
  • It could be through the rules of a particular game, for example, standing behind a line and throwing the ball into a bucket.
  • Or it may be that moment of frustration when they can’t find someone who's hiding.

Protective factors

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University tells us it’s never too late to start building resilience. They’ve identified 4 protective factors as key in the building of resilience in children:

  1. At least 1 caring and supportive adult-child relationship in their life.
  2. A sense of control over what’s happening around or to them.
  3. Opportunities to strengthen their self-regulation and adaptive skills.
  4. Feelings of security are strengthened via whānau, and (community) and cultural connectedness.

Even if a child may have a lot of risk factors in their life, having enough protective factors will lead to positive outcomes.

The early years are an important time to put in place protective factors and reduce risks to build resilience. This is when babies’ brains are most adaptable to their experiences. However, it is never too late to build resilience. Children and adolescents are still able to improve their coping skills and adapt to new challenges if protective factors are put in place.

Responsive care increases resilience

One of the most important protective factors is consistent, loving, responsive care from at least 1 parent during the early years. This care builds a secure attachment relationship. If a parent can’t provide this care, a close relationship with another adult such as a grandparent who can nurture baby and help them recover from stress can also help build resilience.

When a child’s stress response system is activated by stress or trauma, a supportive adult can reduce the potentially harmful effects by providing comfort and reassurance to help the child tolerate the stress.

Caring, supportive relationships remain a strong protective factor into adulthood. Children and adolescents need people they can rely on for emotional support. This may come from whānau members or from a caring neighbour, teacher or sports coach.

Safe neighbourhoods and strong communities with good resources also provide protection.