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
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
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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
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.
12 CCCF/WINTER 2007
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
www.reachinginreachingout.com 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.
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