At this very strange time of lockdown due to the Covid 19 virus, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about resilience, as at this time many people are either coping with this new way of life or perhaps struggling depending on their personal reserves of resilience. I’m hoping these few words might make you realise how resilient you are actually being and not to beat yourself up about things you haven’t managed to achieve as well as supporting those of you working with children and their families to promote resilience in the children and adults you work with.
When I think about resilience, it brings to mind the children, parents and carers I have worked with over the years who have shown amazing resilience in the face of much adversity and the strength and determination they often demonstrated even when things were a massive struggle for them.
Resilience has been defined as “the ability to endure ongoing hardship in every perceivable way” (Walker et al, 2006:251) and as “the capacity to resist or bounce back” (Newman and Blackburn, 2005:1). In addition, and very importantly, “resiliency arises out of a belief in one’s own self-efficacy” (Hartley-Brewer, 2001:8). So, somehow or other along the way, most of us get this very useful thing called resilience which enables us to ‘hang in there’ and keep going even when times are tough. So where does resilience come from?
Stein et al (2000:283) tell us that “resilience is best regarded as an interactive process that unfolds over time” and which is “continually influenced by ongoing changes in context”. From this, I think it is comforting to realise that resilience is not a once and for all commodity which we either get or fail to get as part of our genetic make-up or our circumstances. It is something which has the possibility to be continually built up. Thus, as educators of children, young people or adults or indeed, as parents, we are able to promote or inhibit the development of resilience.
It is extremely useful and important to understand that there are key protective factors which have been shown to promote resilience. It is no surprise that secure attachment is “a powerful protective factor in developing resilience in the earliest years and beyond”. (Hartley-Brewer, 2001:9) and is happily a feature in the lives of many children. You will all be aware that although attachment with a primary carer is extremely important, attachment relationships form between children and other people, like many of you, who care closely for them and these are particularly important for children whose attachment with their primary carer is suffering for whatever reason. Relationships with family members, peers, teachers and social institutions are also strong protective factors for children and adults and support from a partner or confidante, which could be a friend, a tutor or for some perhaps a counsellor, is key to developing resilience in adulthood (Stein et al 2000:282).
There are also, of course, risk factors which you will all be well aware of, both in the lives of some of the children and families you work with and perhaps from your own personal experience. These can prevent or inhibit the development of resilience such as material disadvantage and difficulties in family life (Bartley 2006:2). However, it seems that adversity can, paradoxically, promote resilience too so when ‘the chips are down’, all is not lost and both adults and children still have the capacity to be resilient.
I like to think of each of us having an emotional reservoir which can be filled or depleted depending on our experiences and interactions as we move through our lives and which, when full, enable us to be resilient. Individuals who have accrued high levels in their reservoirs through early supportive relationships may still need a small re-fill at times of stress when levels are lowered. However, others (children and adults) who have not had their share of emotional support have a greater need to fill their reservoir in order to move towards their chosen goal with confidence and a sense of self-efficacy (Gladstone 2012, pp 172-173).
I think this idea links to the concept of emotional capital which Diane Reay writes about. She sees emotional capital as being built up over time and which comprises a “stock of resources” (Reay 2006:61) which can be drawn on. It seems to me that accruing emotional capital by having our reservoirs filled through supportive relationships is a far more ‘desirable outcome’ than many of those we are advised children should achieve because it forms the solid base for all future learning, development and well-being both in childhood and as they move into adulthood.
This is where you come in, especially if you are working with our youngest and perhaps our most vulnerable children and families or perhaps with adult learners who are working to achieve qualifications in early years practice but who have doubts about their abilities. When you place the highest value on forming supportive relationships and providing emotional security which create the solid base that children (and indeed adults) need in order to develop and learn, you are enabling them to have the opportunity to achieve their full potential so they are able to lead a happy and fulfilled life. You are filling emotional reservoirs and creating emotional well-being and resilience. You are, in essence, being professionally ‘kind’, you are bringing that kindness to those you work with. I can’t think of anything which would feel better than that to either those receiving it, or those giving it.
I am independent early years and adult learning consultant and author, now semi-retired. I am also a proud parent and grandparent. I have worked with colleagues from schools, nurseries, pre-schools, children’s centres and the home setting, focussing on developmentally appropriate practice and equality of opportunity – for me the cornerstones of early years practice. I have co-written a book about risky play and another about starting school. I am particularly interested in the links between early experiences of learning and the profound effect they can have on emotional well-being and achievement both in school and in adult life. Talk to me on Twitter @annegladstone
Bartley, M. Ed. (2006). Capability and Resilience: Beating the Odds. London : UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.
Gladstone, A. (2012) Learning to Return: What supports adults to return to learning? In Arnold, C.,Ed. (2012) Improving Your Reflective Practice through Stories of Practitioner Research Abingdon: Routledge
Hartley-Brewer, E. (2001). Learning to Trust and Trusting to Learn: How schools can affect children’s mental health. London : Institute for Public Policy Research.
Newman, T. & Blackburn, S. 2002. Transitions in the Lives of Children and Young People: Resilience Factors. Interchange 78, Scottish Executive Education Department. Available at: https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20170701074158/http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2002/10/15591/11950
Reay, D. 2006. Gendering Bourdieu’s concept of capitals?: Emotional capital, women and social class. The Sociological Review Volume 52, Issue Supplement s2, pp 57-74
Stein, H., Fonagy, P., Ferguson, K.S. & Wisman, M. (2000).
Lives through time: An ideographic approach to the study of resilience. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, Vol. 64, No. 2, 281-305.
Walker, C., Gleaves, A. & Grey, J. (2006). Can students within higher education learn to be resilient and, educationally speaking, does it matter? Educational Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, 251-264.