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Resilience: Coping Effectively with Life's Challenges

Resilience: Coping
Effectively with
Life’s Challenges
by Jennifer Pearson and Darlene Hall
Four-year-old Jeremy is despondent when a friend
accidently knocks over his carefully built block
tower. He cries out miserably, “You’ve ruined my
whole day!” Jeremy never quite recovers and is
easily distressed the rest of the day.
Families today are exposed to high levels of daily stress,
and the incidence of childhood depression is increasing.1
Despite our best efforts, we cannot prevent adversity and
stress. We can, however, help children like Jeremy cope more
effectively with life’s challenges. Over 30 years of research
shows we can learn to be more resilient by changing how
we think about challenges and adversities.1,2,3
What is resilience?
The definition of resilience varies in different cultures and
contexts, but generally refers to one’s ability to “cope well
with adversity” and “persevere and adapt when things go
Resilience helps people deal with stress and adversity,
overcome childhood disadvantage, and reach out to new
opportunities.1 Researchers have found that resilient people
are healthier, live longer, are more successful in school and
work, are happier in relationships and are less prone to
What role does our thinking play in being
Stress, adversity and challenge are inevitable parts of
daily life – and sometimes out of our control. However, the
we think about stress is very much in our control and
makes a substantial difference in how we handle daily
bumps in
the road.
Some people feel helpless in the face of stress and
adversity, so they easily give up attempts to change or
improve the situation. Other people hold more resilient
views. They see the situation as a challenge that can be
overcome if they look for options and keep trying. 4,5 Most
importantly, research suggests that resilient thinking
patterns can be learned.1,2,3
How can children’s resilience be promoted?
Programs to promote resilience in children have existed
since the 1970s. These have focused primarily on building
self-esteem, increasing school readiness and supporting
the parent-child relationship.4,8,9 Most promotion efforts,
however, have tended to overlook the importance of
thinking processes in the development of resilience and
the handling of stress and adversity.
Resiliency skills that help us think more accurately and
flexibly can be absorbed by children from an early age and
can optimize the development of resilience.3,10 It makes
good sense, then, to introduce resiliency-building
strategies to children as early as possible in order to help
them deal with inevitable adversity and inoculate them
against depression.
Studies show that people who manage stress and adversity best
have “3 Cs” in common:
Control: a belief in their ability to take charge of the controllable
aspects of the situation and “influence a more positive outcome.”
Challenge: a view of mistakes as opportunities for new learning,
and change as potential for growth.
Commitment: an active engagement in work and other pursuits
that gives meaning to their lives. 6, 7
A resilient view is characterized by accurate and flexible
thinking, and consists of
creative problem solving
the capacity to see other points of view and to challenge
one’s own views the ability to move on with daily life despite
3 Cs
This article is the first in a three-part series about resilience that is being published
in Interaction. Coming next: Critical Abilities that Help Develop Resilience.
What role does adult modelling play in children’s
ability to develop resilient thinking patterns?
Warm, caring adults who role model resilient thinking in the face of
daily stresses can nurture children’s lifelong capacity for resilience.
In fact, researchers point to just how crucial adult modelling is.
Children two and three years old are able to mimic the thinking
styles of primary caregivers around them. By eight years of age,
most children have already developed a thinking style, or habitual
way of responding to stressors.3
The following example illustrates how an early childhood educator
models a resilient thinking style for the children to mimic:
When a plan to take the children to the park for a
picnic seems threatened by an overnight rainfall and
continuing grey skies, Martha considers the big picture.
The children are looking forward to the outing, and
overcast skies and cooler temperatures may mean fewer
crowds from nearby child care centres. The wet grass
won’t be a problem if the kids wear their rainboots and
coats. And if it starts to rain, they can picnic on the
benches under the shelter, and finish their outing by
going to a nearby library.
Martha was able to view the situation with realistic optimism.
She didn’t deny the negative aspects of the weather, but instead
found some positive features – less heat and fewer crowds. She
put a plan into place and believed she could cope with whatever
the weather might bring. And by talking about the plan with the
children before the outing, Martha modelled how accurate and
flexible thinking can help people look for the controllable aspects
in everyday situations.
Just as children develop language in a language-rich environment,
so they will develop the skills of resilience in a resilience-rich
environment. Research provides the direction and tools for us to
create that environment. Let’s put ourselves and the children we
work with on the path to a resilient future!
This article is adapted from the Reaching IN…Reaching OUT Resiliency Guidebook.
For more information about developing resilient thinking and coping styles, please visit and click on “Guidebook & Videos.”
Jennifer Pearson is lead writer/trainer and Darlene Hall is coordinator of Reaching IN…Reaching
OUT (RIRO), an evidence-based skills training program promoting resilience in young children.
1 Masten, A. S., & Coatsworth, J. D. (1998). The development of competence in favorable
and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. American
Psychologist, 53 (2), 205–220.
2 Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The resilience factor. New York: Broadway Books.
3 Schneider, S. (2001). In search of realistic optimism. American Psychologist, 56 (3), 250–261.
4 Siegel, D. (1999). The developing mind. New York: Guilford Press.
5 Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. D. (1978). Learned helplessness in
humans: A critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97 (1), 49–74.
6 Garmezy, N. (1991). Resilience in children’s adaptation to negative life events and stressed
environments. Pediatric Annals, 20, 459–466.
7 Kobasa, S. C. (1979a). Personality and resistance to illness. American Journal of Community
Psychology, 7, 413–423.
8 Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. New York: Lyle Stuart.
9 Kobasa, S. C. (1979b). Stressful life events, personality and health: an inquiry into
hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1–11.
10 Seligman, M. E. P., Reivich, K., Jaycox, L., & Gillham, J. (1995). The optimistic child. New
York: Harper Perennial.
... They offered various factors and explanations how resilience developed in a certain individual. Some mentioned that it is actually seen already to children (Pearson & Hall, 2007), others gave emphasis in the role of culture (Ungar, 2006) and others identified different protective factors that are within the environment of a person particularly the child where development of resilience begins (Gunnestad, 2006: Werner & Smith, 1992. With that, this paper also aims to explain the different factors that contribute for the occurrence of resilience in one's personality. ...
... However, parents has still major impact on the person because this is the stage wherein they start to label behaviors as good or bad from imitating their parents (Sullivan, 1953). Furthermore, various studies (Pearson J. & Hall D., 2007;Hill M., Stafford, A., Seaman, P., Ross, N. & Daniel, B., 2007) also show that providing adequate and consistent role model is a big responsibility for the parents to instill resilience because this stage also allow the children to mimic how their primary caregivers or their parents react to adversities and later on adapt their thinking style and habitual behaviors when encountering distressing events. They were also the ones who show how the child can regulate emotions through portraying nonverbal interaction during childhood (Siegel, 2001). ...
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... Our definition of coping is inspired from its interlinkages with resilience (Connor and Davidson, 2003;Folkman and Moskowitz, 2004;Rice et al., 2016). Resilience refers to people's ability to overcome setbacks or catastrophes and to adapt to unforeseen changes (Pearson and Hall, 2007;Southwick et al., 2011). When facing stressful situations such as job loss, poverty, disease or financial problems, people who are resilient will be better copers (Cherry, 2015). ...
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In this paper, we explore the connection between poverty and health (poverty-related diseases: PRDs) by investigating the factors that play a role in how two groups of people in Cameroon cope with health challenges: workers in a large agro-industrial organization (living in 'camps') and students in two major universities (living on 'campuses'). We investigated factors reported in the literature as being associated with coping, summarized under the 'salutogenic umbrella', as well as demographic, social and environmental factors. A total of 509 respondents from camps and campuses participated in this study. We used a combination of standardized and un-standardized survey instruments to measure coping. We used χ2 and ANOVA tests to investigate bivariate differences and multiple logistic regression analysis to determine which significant survey factors predicted coping. Our results showed expected and unexpected differences between the settings. Individual dispositional factors such as sense of coherence (SOC), self-efficacy (SE), subjective wellbeing and self-rated health differed significantly between the settings. Expected coping resources such as income and SE did not differ between non-copers and copers. Two factors emerged as predictors of coping: living environment (setting) and SOC. Our results highlight the need for a multidimensional perspective on poverty and also the need to apply the salutogenic approach in PRD research. In particular, the emphasis this approach puts on stressors and the capacity to employ a variety of resources to overcome stressors is a fruitful way to better understand PRDs and the importance of location-specific circumstances where poverty, health and diseases are connected.
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The development of competence holds great interest for parents and society alike. This article considers implications from research on competence and resilience in children and adolescents for policy and interventions designed to foster better outcomes among children at risk. Foundations of competence in early development are discussed, focusing on the role of attachment relationships and self-regulation. Results from studies of competence in the domains of peer relations, conduct, school, work, and activities are highlighted. Lessons are drawn from studies of naturally occurring resilience among children at risk because of disadvantage or trauma and also from efforts to deliberately alter the course of competence through early childhood education and preventive interventions. Converging evidence suggests that the same powerful adaptive systems protect development in both favorable and unfavorable environments.
Studied personality as a conditioner of the effects of stressful life events on illness onset. Two groups of middle- and upper-level 40-49 yr old executives had comparably high degrees of stressful life events in the previous 3 yrs, as measured by the Schedule of Recent Events. One group of 86 Ss suffered high stress without falling ill, whereas the other group of 75 Ss reported becoming sick after their encounter with stressful life events. Illness was measured by the Seriousness of Illness Survey (A. R. Wyler et al 1970). Discriminant function analysis, run on half of the Ss in each group and cross-validated on the remaining cases, supported the prediction that high stress/low illness executives show, by comparison with high stress/high illness executives, more hardiness, that is, have a stronger commitment to self, an attitude of vigorousness toward the environment, a sense of meaningfulness, and an internal locus of control. (43 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).
Over the past 30 yrs, the self-esteem movement has promoted the credo in American homes and classrooms that unconditional positive feedback is what children need to make them feel better about themselves. But even though we are raising our children to feel good, the hard truth is that they have never been more depressed. In fact, depression strikes a quarter of all children today. To examine and reverse this trend, [the author] developed a long-term research study with his colleagues called the Penn Depression Prevention Project. Their startling findings prove that teaching children to challenge their pessimistic thoughts can "immunize" them against depression. "The Optimistic Child" offers parents and teachers the tools developed in this study to teach children of all ages life skills that transform helplessness into mastery and bolster genuine self-esteem. Learning the skills of optimism not only reduces the risk of depression but boosts school performance, improves physical health, and provides children with the self-reliance they need as they approach the teenage years and adulthood. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Personality was found significantly to mitigate the illness-provoking effects of stressful life events. Two groups of executives had comparably high degrees of stress over a 3-year interval, as measured by the Holmes and Rahe Schedule of Recent Life Events. One group (n = 86) suffered high stress without falling ill, while the other (n = 75) reported becoming sick after their encounter with stressful life events. Illness was measured by the Wyler, Masuda, and Holmes Seriousness of Illness Survey. Discriminant function analysis supported the prediction that high stress/low illness executives show, by comparison with high stress/high illness executives, more control, commitment, and interest in change as a challenge.
Criticizes and reformulates the learned helplessness hypothesis. It is considered that the old hypothesis, when applied to learned helplessness in humans, has 2 major problems: (a) It does not distinguish between cases in which outcomes are uncontrollable for all people and cases in which they are uncontrollable only for some people (universal vs personal helplessness), and (b) it does not explain when helplessness is general and when specific, or when chronic and when acute. A reformulation based on a revision of attribution theory is proposed to resolve these inadequacies. According to the reformulation, once people perceive noncontingency, they attribute their helplessness to a cause. This cause can be stable or unstable, global or specific, and internal or external. The attribution chosen influences whether expectation of future helplessness will be chronic or acute, broad or narrow, and whether helplessness will lower self-esteem or not. The implications of this reformulation of human helplessness for the learned helplessness model of depression are outlined. (92 ref)
Functional adequacy (the maintenance of competent functioning despite an interfering emotionality) is a benchmark of resilient behavior under stress. While resilient adults can be identified as adults who once experienced a great deal of despair as children, I am not prepared to mark off the construct of resilience because such people may carry with them a realistic baggage of sadness and unhappiness. The very nature of despair that is present for children of the ghetto, the status of minority children in today's America, all have a reality that can neither be ignored or denied. Perhaps a portion of resilient behavior is the evaluative awareness of a difficult reality combined with a commitment to struggle, to conquer the obstacle, and to achieve one's goals despite the negative circumstances to which one has been exposed, which were and remain evocative of sadness.
The resilience factor
  • K Reivich
  • A Shatté
Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The resilience factor. New York: Broadway Books.
In search of realistic optimism
  • S Schneider
Schneider, S. (2001). In search of realistic optimism. American Psychologist, 56 (3), 250-261.