Rethinking Resilience: What Really Builds Resilience in Kids and Teens

Have you ever wondered what truly builds resilience in kids and teens? While it’s easy to think that resilience is all about personal grit and inner strength, the truth is far more complex—and compelling.

Welcome to the first installment of a critical series in which we will dive deep into the often-overlooked factors that significantly impact resilience in young people. Forget the traditional focus on individual traits; we’re about to explore how the world around a child plays a pivotal role in shaping their ability to bounce back and thrive. This first installment lays the foundation to get us thinking differently about resilience. In future articles, we will jump into actionable steps you can take to empower the young lives you influence.

Resilience, the capacity to bounce back from adversity and adapt successfully to challenges, is often thought to come from personal traits. Factors such as self-efficacy, emotion regulation, and internal locus of control are all highlighted as inherent qualities that make certain individuals more resilient than others. However, this view is too limited and perpetuates an individualistic understanding of a complex construct.

One of the critical limitations of this trait-based model is that it places the onus of resilience solely on the individual. Doing so ignores things like socio-cultural, economic, and structural elements that contribute to resilience.  When we focus only on individual traits, it is easy to blame our children and teens for not being resilient, rather than looking at the bigger picture.

Personal traits are important, but they’re not the whole story. Environmental factors and opportunities play a significant role in fostering resilience. In fact, for children and teens, having the right opportunities for resilience matters more than having something within them.  So, when we talk about helping young people become more resilient, it’s crucial to also consider the world around them.

Environmental Factors and Resilience

Family Dynamics

We know that family dynamics and parenting styles significantly influence the development of resilience. Positive parenting, characterized by emotional warmth, consistency, and appropriate discipline, enhances resilience in children and adolescents.

Educational Environment

Schools are pivotal platforms for nurturing resilience. Teachers, curricula, and the overall school culture can either facilitate or hinder resilience. Opportunities for engagement, extracurricular activities, and a supportive learning environment are crucial in fostering resilience.

Community Resources

Communities that offer recreational activities, social support networks, and mentoring opportunities contribute significantly to resilience.

The Role of Opportunities in Resilience Development

Enhancing Opportunities for Emotional Regulation

Emotion regulation skills, often considered as traits, can be substantially improved when children are offered specific opportunities for emotional literacy, validation, and coping strategies. Programs that teach mindfulness, self-awareness, and coping skills offer a framework where resilience can be cultivated.

Opportunities for Skill Development

Building skills and competencies in children and teens provides a sense of efficacy that is crucial for resilience. Skills development should be considered as opportunities created by environmental contexts, such as schools, rather than merely individual pursuits.

The Critical Role of Support Systems

Mentoring programs, peer support, and family networks offer valuable opportunities for resilience development. These systems provide a buffer against stressors and contribute to adaptive functioning.


To foster resilience effectively, it is crucial to move beyond individual-centric models and focus on creating supportive environments. This paradigm shift has profound implications for policy, educational interventions, and clinical practice, emphasizing the need to advocate for systemic changes that can facilitate opportunities for resilience in all children and teens, irrespective of their individual characteristics.

Be sure to check out my three-part series on Unleashing Resilience. Looking for help? Reach out to our experts at Koru Family Psychology to help you raise resilient children.

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