The problem with "resilience"

"Resilience" is a well-used word in children’s education and mental health services at the moment.  And for good reason.  Resilience is about learning to be with difficult feelings and circumstances, and to eventually find our way back to a sense of wellbeing.  It’s about weathering the storm.  It’s important.

An important role for adults is to let children have their feelings without needing to fix them.  To put in boundaries and limits and to let children learn from experience.

However, another important role for adult caregivers and educators is to provide a suitable environment in which children can grow and learn.

The problem with the over-use of the term “resilience” is that it can indicate a reluctance by adults to avoid thinking more deeply about a child’s environment and whether it suits a child’s needs.  

Often the term "resilience" is used at an individual level, as if each child should learn or decide to be resilient. However, resilience is developed for a child through their environment and their relationships.  Just like we can't just "be happy", we can't make a choice to "be resilient".  This is especially true for children who have experienced trauma or neglect.

Resilience is created by what psychotherapists call "holding" and "containing".  This starts for a baby when their caregivers provide daily care for their infant, and receive and process emotions for and with them.  It comes about through countless episodes of rupture and repair with caregivers in which the child learns that they can get through difficult times.  When a child misses out on these experiences (eg through emotional neglect, or perfect parenting or relational trauma), their resilience can take longer to develop.

Children can’t be “resilient” on their own.  And each child version of “resilient” is different.

Sometimes, it is absolutely appropriate to modify an environment for a child if it doesn't meet the child's needs.  Each child comes with a different mind and internal apparatus that is the sum of its experience and born traits.

It doesn’t mean they are not resilient or won’t learn how to be.  

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash


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