Everyone is resilient. We often talk of resilience as a characteristic that an individual either has or does not have. “She’ll be ok; she’s resilient” or “I’m worried about him; he’s just not that resilient.” However, the truth is that resilience exists on a continuum, with every person possessing varying degrees of resilience in various situations and life circumstances.
Many factors go into determining how an individual will respond to any given situation. However, for children, the single strongest predictor of resilience is the presence of a relationship with at least one sensitively attuned, caring, and competent adult. Ideally, this adult is a parent; however, that is not always the case. Having a safe adult, who is emotionally available and able to help them process an adverse event, buffers the level of toxic stress experienced by a child in any given situation. An event that may be experienced as a tolerable stressor with the presence of a compassionate adult caregiver would likely be toxic for a child without that connection. Likewise, an event that could easily be a toxic stressor, can often be buffered by the presence of a supportive, loving relationship.
Through a relationship with a caring adult, a child learns the values of empathy and compassion. They learn what it is like to be cared for by another and how to care for others in return. A nurturing relationship with your child in infancy and early childhood will create neural pathways that impact the rest of your child’s life. A sensitive, attuned parent during the first year of life is the gift that keeps on giving. (Even though they won’t actually recognize that, because memories from the first year of life are stored subconsciously. So, don’t expect a big thank you or anything.)
At any time during the life span, resilience is strengthened in the context of close relationships. This means that the very best thing you can do to help your child develop a strong ability to bounce back from adversity is to spend time actively building and strengthening your relationship. By focusing on strengthening the parent-child relationship, you will help your child create neural pathways that are wired for successful relationships. You will teach your child that relationships are safe and that people can be trusted. Additionally, a securely attached parent-child relationship also creates pathways in your child’s brain for positive self-esteem and confidence. Through the relationship, your child learns that he or she has the ability to be successful in relationships with others, creating a sense of confidence that will extend to other relationships as well.
You can also use your relationship as a means to strengthen other qualities of resilience in your child. For example, you can use your relationship to instill in your child a strong sense of self-efficacy, an important factor in resilience. Self-efficacy is the belief that an individual has the ability to make changes and reach goals in their own life. Without this belief, people often develop what is commonly called a “victim mentality.” This is the difference between taking steps toward reaching a goal or giving up because you feel that no matter what you do, it won’t make a difference anyways. Self-efficacy is critical to creating a sense that one has control over their own life and, as such, is an important piece of the resilience puzzle.
One of the very best investments of your time that you can make is on your relationship with your child. Are you interested in learning more about how to build resilience in your child by strengthening your relationship? I would be honored if you would sign up to receive my free mini-course, “5 Steps to Creating Connection.” In this 5-part series, you will receive daily assignments and PDF worksheets to help you start taking concrete action toward an intentional relationship with your little one. Sign up here to subscribe and then please join our community on Facebook and let us know how it’s going!