The Science of Resilience: Why Kids Get Back Up

Article by John Bloedel January 7, 2020

Why is it that some kids experience adverse conditions, yet they get back up? Child discipleship can play a significant role in this process of “getting back up.” Child discipleship that’s built on belonging, believing and becoming develops resilience in kids.

You may be surprised or even frightened by all that pops up when you google the phrase “the science of…” But if you scroll down far enough you will come across “the science of resilience.” This area of study has been of increasing interest in recent years. But why? In short, it’s a seismic need. Marketplace employers, educators, physicians, therapists, researchers, coaches, parents (and beyond) have observed a significant need for resilience to be developed in young people. It is important to learn not simply to cope with life’s adversities, but to learn to thrive into adulthood. Curious? We have been too.

This science comes with good news! Resilience can be developed. It can be developed in adults, and it can be developed in children. But what is resilience according to the experts? The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy and threat…”

These negative experiences in childhood are often referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). As we think about the future of the church, one that may be increasingly marginalized by secular culture, this science (what we can learn and apply to children in adverse conditions) should be of significant interest as we prepare today’s kids to live, lead and thrive in a very different future. So how can we help them develop resilience?

In Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, authors Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney interviewed Vietnam POWs, and other remarkably resilient people, looking for common characteristics that they shared.

During their interviews with resilient people, they noticed shared emerging factors—that contribute to resilience. These are the 10 resilience factors they found through their interview process: Fostering optimism, Facing fear, Solidifying moral compass, Practicing religion and spirituality, Attracting and giving social support, Imitating resilient role models, Physical training, Mental and emotional training, Enhancing cognitive and emotional flexibility, Finding meaning, purpose, and growth.

As our team reflected on this list, we observed that many of these items are relational in nature. Just look at how some of the items on this list above would be applied and implemented in the life of a child.

What we see in the Resilience Factors: A moral compass is formed by a worldview shared through a community, Spirituality and religion are formed by faith communities and key individuals, Social support comes from people, Role models are often coaches, mentors, family members and members of our community, Training frequently happens one-on-one.

There’s a clear theme here. Resilience is formed by a combination of the internal makeup of an individual in conflict with external adverse experiences. However, the catalyst to the development of resilience is oftentimes an additional person who extends belonging and relationship for one facing adversity.

In an article titled, INBRIEF: The Science of Resilience, the Center on the Developing Child of Harvard University says that, “Resilience requires supportive relationships and opportunities for skill building. No matter the source of hardship, the single most common factor for children who end up doing well is having the support of at least one stable and committed relationship with a parent, caregiver or other adult. These relationships are the active ingredient in building resilience: they provide personalized responsiveness, scaffolding, and protection that can buffer children from developmental disruption.”

So what is this recurring theme? It’s a fire carrier. It’s the presence of a loving, caring adult. It’s “but there was a church.” This is the power of belonging. The KidMin soil that prioritizes the essential component of belonging is a garden where believing and becoming can grow, flourish and thrive. Today’s kids—now more than ever—need a community of belonging to help them develop the type of navigational resilience they will need to thrive in their faith in an uncertain future.

As advocates for the gospel and child disciple-makers, what we want more than anything is for our kids to “be there” in the kingdom of heaven. I sometimes envision looking across the vast multitude of God’s people worshiping King Jesus in heaven, catching the joy and adoration on the faces of my two sons—what more could we want?! Until then we pray for our kids who are facing a unique future. Until then we can learn from the science of resilience and build a church community that extends the love of Jesus to today’s kids like never before. Let’s inspire and equip our volunteer teams with this critical information. Through walking in relationship with you and your volunteer team, kids can navigate truly unique times as you lead them to believe in the gospel of Christ and become more like Jesus in a world in need of His hope and salvation.

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