Understanding Resilience

Authors: Brigid Daniel & Sally Wassell

Research evidence

A growing body of international research has provided consistent evidence that children growing up within troubled or abusive families, in poverty-stricken and war-torn communities, can overcome the odds and develop into "confident, competent, and caring adults" (Werner & Smith, 1992).

This evidence suggests that children and young people may be more resilient than earlier research suggested. But what are the factors that enable some children to survive adversity? What are the protective factors that make some children more resilient than others? Are children born more resilient, or are there environmental factors at play?

Resilience can be defined as: ‘ Normal development under difficult conditions’ (Fonagy et al. 1994). As we will see from the sections that follow, the factors that support ‘Normal development under difficult conditions’ are becoming better understood (Rutter 1985; Werner 1990; Werner and Smith 1992).