Resilience in developmental psychology refers to the ability of children to develop normally despite stressful circumstances and conditions. In general, resilience is the ability of people to react appropriately and flexibly to changing life situations and demands and to master difficult, frustrating and stressful situations without psychological consequences. Individual differences in resilience can then explain why some people do not experience such consequences despite stress, which means that the topic of resilience in the broadest sense can be counted among the topics of positive psychology (Stangl, 2020).
The origins of resilience research go back to the 1950s when the American developmental psychologist Emmy Werner began a study on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in which she observed 698 boys and girls over four decades whose chances of living a successful life were poor because of neglect, poverty, and abuse. Often the marriages of the parents were troubled, no money was available, many parents were addicted to alcohol. But in the end, there was a big surprise, because normally one would have predicted a sad fate for the children, but since this long-term study, it was clear that even if the conditions are bad, some people master their lives well. A third of Kauai’s children grew up into caring, self-confident and capable adults, both in their jobs and in personal relationships. The strong children of Kauai had something that the others did not have. There was at least one loving caregiver to take care of them, whereby the confidant does not necessarily have to be a mother or father, but another caregiver can also fill this role (one significant other). (Werner & Smith, 2001). Werner summarized her findings in three protective factors:
- A temperament and an average intelligence that has a positive effect on parents/caregivers. In this context, certain energy, robustness and a socially binding nature are also mentioned, because children who possess these qualities receive more positive attention from their parents or caregivers (Werner & Smith, 2001).
- An emotional bond with the parents or substitute caregivers who encouraged the children to trust and be independent. This also included the children’s conviction that they were responsible for their own successes. This conviction enables adolescents to react actively to adverse circumstances and also to seek out people who can give them advice (Werner & Smith, 2001).
- The support of society, which provides sustainable values, whereby schools, in particular, have a strong influence on the development of children’s resilience by recognizing and rewarding their skills. This aspect shows the responsibility of society in terms of forming resilient skills in children (Werner & Smith, 2001).
Resilience in everyday life
For the individual, being a resilient person means being able to deal successfully with stressful life events and with the negative consequences of stress. It is crucial not to be discouraged by resistance in life, but to learn from it and integrate these experiences into one’s own life. A basic or basic trust that is formed in childhood is important for this, but the genetic make-up also determines the mental resistance.
Resilient people often have good relationships with friends and partners and have a positive self-image of themselves. These people have a broader interest, are disciplined, tend to be less catastrophic and also look for positive aspects when faced with negative life events. Persistent negative feelings, long-lasting dissatisfaction, and tension contribute to mental illness, while a positive mood promotes and relaxes creative thinking (Stangl, 2020). Resilience research gives some practical recommendations:
- Friends and a social life that surround you is crucial.
- Develop a sense of non-material values.
- Positive feelings like cheerfulness, humor, fascination, and love can neutralize negative events.
- Asking yourself whether everything you have taken on in your daily life is still relevant and whether you enjoy doing it. Admittedly, every job or obligation also involves unpleasant activities, although this is only problematic if the negative clearly predominates.
In the opinion of experts, resilience can be learned to a certain extent and can also be increased in adults by solution orientation, promoting optimism, and the assumption of responsibility. Especially in children, resilience factors can be promoted, which a child acquires in interaction with the environment and through the successful accomplishment of age-specific developmental tasks (Stangl, 2020).
Following factors strengthen children and increase their resistance (Fröhlich-Gildhoff & Rönnau-Böse, 2009):
- Self-control capability
- Social skills
- Positive self-perception
- Problem-solving competence
- Conviction of self-efficacy
- Appropriate management of stress
- Fröhlich-Gildhoff, K. & Rönnau-Böse, M. (2009). Resilienz. München: Reinhardt.
- Stangl, W. (2020). Resilienz. Online Lexikon für Psychologie und Pädagogik. Retrieved March 10, 2020, from https://lexikon.stangl.eu/593/resilienz/
- Werner, E. E. & Smith, R. S. (2001). Journeys from childhood to midlife: Risk, resilience, and recovery. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Author: Alexander Ariu