Strategies & Techniques to Build Resilience in Children

By Adina Soclof, MS, CCC-SLP

Building Resilience in your Young ClientThere is very little empirical research on what interventions work. Nevertheless, empirical findings on personal and societal protective factors offer many suggestions for fostering characteristics that help children learn self-regulation and pro-social behavior. In other words, “resilience findings do not translate into a clear program of prevention and treatment, but they do provide numerous leads that focus on the dynamic view of what may be involved in overcoming seriously adverse experiences.”

As a general principle, it is important to set forth the precise objectives of resiliency training: what do we hope to accomplish? This may be different for different individuals and in different social contexts. I.e., a behavior that is functional and desirable in one context may not be so in another. In addition, it is necessary to take into consideration contextual factors (family attributes, classroom and neighborhood conditions) in addition to individual characteristics. I.e., it is hard to build resilience in a child whose family or school is in chaos or whose neighborhood is not safe.

Factors with the greatest potential for positive influence on academic resilience include the synonymously used terms self-regulation (SR) and executive function (EF), which refer to processes that enable individuals to exert control over attention, cognition, and behavioral tendencies. Academic self-efficacy has been described as the child’s belief in his or her academic competence, which may be best fostered by teachers who are “warm demanders” or “compassionate disciplinarians.”

It may not always be clear why some children seem to be more resilient than others and why some respond successfully to resilience training while others do not. There is, for example, a rapidly emerging literature on the role of individual differences in genes, neural plasticity, and brain development in the processes of adaptation before, during, and following traumatic experiences. Such factors will – of course – not be readily obvious or measurable, but they will likely impact efforts at building resiliency.

Due to the multidimensional nature of resilience, interventions cutting across behaviors may be the most effective. Furthermore, intervention strategies must be tailored to the student’s developmental level.

What is clear at this point is that there will be a wide variety of children facing varying types and degrees of adversity, who will need interventions tailored to their particular abilities and needs. What might be gleaned from the literature on resilience is a list of domains that can and should be addressed in preparing children to deal successfully with the challenges they face.

Since resilience is based on strengths and not on deficits, and since resilient abilities are not simply innate, but can be learned and cultivated, we might propose a list of personal and environmental characteristics that can be seen as the building blocks of better functioning for children with developmental difficulties. Where those strengths are present, they can be reinforced and enhanced, and where they are not present, they can be taught.

What Can Clinicians Do?

While the time that clinicians spend with children is short – usually a half hour to one hour of therapy – we can use that time to promote resilience and help our young clients develop the characteristics noted above.

It is an easy matter to incorporate the concept of resilience into our existing therapy activities and goals. As clinicians we already do many of the things that help children become resilient. One of the main goals of the speech-language pathologist (SLP), for example, is to teach language skills to help children communicate their needs more effectively, thus enabling them to create social connections and networks. Occupational therapists (OTs) and physical therapists (PTs) help with self-care, mobility and essential life skills. Mental health professionals help children develop behavioral control and positive attitudes.

Learn More & Earn CEU Credit:

Building Resilience in your Young Client is a 3-hour online CEU course that provides a working definition of resilience and descriptions of the characteristics that may be associated with better outcomes for children who confront adversity in their lives. It also identifies particular groups of children – most notably those with developmental challenges and learning disabilities – who are most likely to benefit from resilience training. The bulk of the course – presented in two sections – offers a wide variety of resilience interventions that can be used in therapy, school, and home settings. Course #30-72 | 2014 | 53 pages | 21 posttest questions

Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. Professional Development Resources maintains responsibility for all programs and content. Professional Development Resources is also approved by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the California Board of Behavioral Sciences; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; and by theTexas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners.