Building Resilience

Connection Matters, Building Resilience

Portrait of happy mother and daughter painting with gouache

Resilience is the ability to overcome adversity and bounce back …stronger than before.


Why does resilience matter?

Studies on the brain show that physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in childhood, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can impact a child’s developing brain. As you learn more about the impact of ACEs on a child’s development then you can play a part in creating relationships and spaces where resilience is fostered.


Why do connection and belonging matter to the resilience of a child?

Research shows that one caring and committed adult in the life of a child can change the course of that child’s entire life.


Why is this true?

“These relationships provide the personalized responsiveness, scaffolding, and protection that buffer children from developmental disruption. They also build key capacities—such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate behavior—that enable children to respond adaptively to adversity and thrive.”

John Shonkoff, MD  Harvard Center for the Developing Child

The more you understand trauma and how it can impact children as they develop, the more you can do to help them heal. Here’s what kids need to overcome adversity:

Competence              “I can handle this!”

Confidence               “I can do this well!”

Connection               “I belong here.”

Character                  “What I say and do affects others.”

Caring                        “I can see your point of view and it matters to me.”

Contribution             “I have a purpose in life.”

Coping                       “I have healthy ways to deal with stress.”

Control                      “I have power in my choices and actions.”

Rich Lerner, PhD, The Good Teen lays out the Five C’s while Ken Ginsburg, M.D., MS Ed, FAAP adds three more C’s in A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings.


What can teachers, caregivers, and other adults do to help a child build resilience after or while experiencing trauma?

  • Offer supportive relationships
  • Create a safe space
  • Model adaptive skill-building
  • Provide positive experiences
  • Maintain routine–structure is security
  • Offer alternatives to isolation
  • Draw on faith-based, cultural, and community values



Here are some ideas for activities that can enhance a child’s ability to recover and heal from childhood trauma.

  • Age & Stage Appropriate: parallel play, pretend play, outdoor play
  • Healthy: running, jumping, climbing, swimming, biking
  • Stress Reducers: adult responsiveness, eye-contact, hugging, cuddling
  • Brain Building: conversation, singing, puzzles, reading, limited screen time
  • Self-Regulation: self-soothing, music, art, quiet time, humming


(See more on the teacher & child connection.)

The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is having at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. 

John Shonkoff, MD  Harvard Center for the Developing Child


Add in positive experiences and coping skills, and we are on our way to a resilient and thriving child!

Female soccer coach talking to her players in a field. All the girls are wearing the same light blue soccer jersey. They are smiling at their coach.