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Understanding adversity, change and resilience

In this step, we will talk about what supports help some people to demonstrate resilience in the face of adversities.
Diverse group of school-aged children pulling ropes

In times of major change and crisis, people of all ages experience adversity. Some people thrive while others seem to struggle. It is often not clear why some people thrive and others struggle. In this step, we will talk about what supports help some people to demonstrate resilience in the face of adversities. In the rest of the course, you will learn different strategies and approaches to support your own and children’s resilience to adapt to challenges, grow, and thrive.

What is “adversity”?: Adversity can encompass many things. It is any “environmental conditions that interfere with or threaten the accomplishment of age-appropriate tasks” (Wright and Masten, 2006). Adversity can be any challenge that an individual or community faces, such as poverty, a pandemic, living with a disability, community violence. Everyone faces some adversities in their lives. Sometimes we handle it well, and other times it is more difficult to address.

Think about what adversities you may have faced.

What is “resilience”?: Simply put, resilience is overcoming adversity. “In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways”

Think about how you have been resilient in the face of adversities. Who helped? How?

Resilience is not just about you or your child in isolation – it’s about an individual’s innate capacities, available resources, and the way individuals and groups come together and are able to access those resources in meaningful ways.

Factors that contribute or detract from mental health and well-being exist at all levels of the individual’s network, which can be seen in the image. This includes:

  • Individual – one’s own coping mechanisms, skills and competencies – including social, emotional and cognitive competencies, and perspectives, values and identities.
  • Closest relationships – positive, healthy relationships, such as families and friends.
  • Local community – supportive schools, community mental health programs, etc.
  • Broader society – responsive resources and programs and government.

The goal is to stay balanced and continue healthy growth for children – and for adults. This can be done by REDUCING risk factors or INCREASING promotive & protective factors.

With any change or transition, there can be added stress or risk factors weighing down the “risk” side of the see-saw. By adding promotive and protective factors on the other side, the system can maintain its balance and children and adults can learn and grow and thrive!

What are “risk factors”?

Risk factors are those things that contribute to reduced mental health. They can include experiencing an acute adversity, like a health pandemic or the death of a close friend or family member, and other factors that are always present, like being part of a disadvantaged social group.

What are “promotive and protective factors”?

Promotive / Protective factors help to achieve positive mental health and wellbeing. Here are some examples of these factors:

  • Self-control and problem-solving skills (SEL skills)
  • Playing with friends and caring adults
  • Close relationships with competent caregivers
  • Quality learning environments that are responsive to the mental health and psychosocial needs of children
  • Safe neighborhoods

How do I increase resilience?

This course aims to provide you with the tools to increase the promotive and protective factors for yourself and your child, primarily through SEL, and guide you to access response mechanisms if and when they become necessary. Although they build on one another, promotion / protection differs from response. See below for more information.

Promotion and protection of psychosocial wellbeing: We protect and promote psychosocial wellbeing through encouraging healthy behaviours and choices, becoming aware of our emotions and learning skills to manage them, building healthy relationships, and through creating positive and nurturing environments for children.We will talk about specific promotion strategies in this and other units. Many promotion strategies can function as response strategies, too, but they must be more tailored to the specific needs of the individual and the situation.

Response: Response is necessary when the promotion and protection of wellbeing are not enough to balance the risk factors, and the see-saw is off-balance. Response mechanisms include addressing the risk factors when they arise and knowing where to look and how to navigate the resources in your community and environment. When children are exposed to distressing events, we can respond to how they are feeling in various ways. This can be through a caregiver or other adult comforting the child and helping to ensure they are safe, or sometimes through more specialized support such as counseling if a child has more serious symptoms of distress. We will talk about identifying and referring children with more serious needs at the end of the unit.

Ungar, M. (2008). Resilience across cultures. The British Journal of Social Work, 38(2), 218-235.
Wright, M. O. D., & Masten, A. S. (2005). Resilience processes in development. In Handbook of resilience in children (pp. 17-37). Springer, Boston, MA.
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Coping with Changes: Social-Emotional Learning Through Play

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