Understanding Resilience

Authors: Brigid Daniel & Sally Wassell

Resilient children and protective environments

The ecological model is only one way of thinking about resilience.

We can also think of the degree of resilience of a particular child as being at some point on a dimension with vulnerability at one end, and resilience at the other. This dimension is usually used to refer to the intrinsic qualities of an individual child. There are a range of different factors that influence where on this dimension a child might be located and the influence of these factors will change with age and stage (Werner and Smith 1992). For example, being born female is associated with a higher degree of resilience during infancy, yet in adolescence being male is associated with greater resilience.

A second dimension for understanding differences in resilience is that of protective and adverse environments. This dimension refers to extrinsic factors found within the family and wider community. Examples of protective factors along this dimension are the existence of a close attachment to a carer or sibling; or the presence of a supportive extended family member like an aunt or grandparent.

Diagram of the protective framework

Considered together these two dimensions provide a helpful framework for the assessment of risk factors and protective factors at all levels of a child’s social and emotional environment (Daniel, Wassell and Gilligan 1999). In the real world the two dimensions will interact: an increase in protective environmental factors can help boost a child’s individual resilience. For example good experiences at school can protect a child’s sense of self esteem, in spite of troubled relationships at home.

This framework can also be used as the basis for the assessment of potential protective factors with the aim of developing a plan to build on protective factors and boost a child’s resilience.