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What is resiliency?

Put simply, resiliency refers to the capacity of human beings to survive and thrive in the face of adversity. It is a term that can be applied to people of any age. However, in the context of this website it refers to the capacity that some children have to overcome difficult circumstances and go on to lead healthy, successful lives.

Here are some definitions of resiliency, as it has been defined by researchers in the field:

  • `Remaining competent despite exposure to misfortune or stressful events`
  • `A capacity which allows a person ... to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging effects of adversity`
  • `The capacity some children have to adapt successfully despite exposure to severe stressors`
  • `The human capacity to face, overcome, and even be strengthened by the adversities of life`
  • `The process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances`

Why is it important?

Mental health problems among young people are an increasing problem in Australia and world wide. The World Health Organisation has predicted that depression will the be the number one health issue in the world in 2020. In Australia, it has been estimated that 20% of young people suffer from some form of mental disorder, with depression one of the most common problems. Not only is depression the leading cause of youth suicide, but it is frequently a recurring disorder, which has social and economic costs that continue for years.

Resiliency research helps us to understand the factors that help children develop into mentally healthy adults, despite growing up in disadvantaged circumstances. Understanding these factors is of great importance if it means we can learn to help children in adverse circumstances to overcome the odds and grow up to become healthy and productive citizens.

Components of resiliency

Resiliency can be broken down into the following components:

Cognitive and behavioural factors

Cognitive and behavioural factors include a child`s social, emotional, problem-solving and analysis skills, as well as factors such optimism, autonomy and self-esteem. This site provides detailed information about each of these areas, and ways to assist children to develop these skills.

Social and contextual factors

Social and contextual factors include relationships with parents, peers, teachers and others, as well as access to community support services, attendance at a school with high academic standards, and other environmental factors. This site provides detailed information about how to improve school and community environments in ways that foster resiliency.

Genetic factors

This includes factors such as gender, temperament, intelligence and physical health. Girls, children with an easygoing temperament, and children with above-average intelligence tend to be more resilient.The resilient child.

The resilient child

A great deal of research effort has gone into distinguishing the characteristics of resilient children from their non-resilient peers. These findings consistently show that resilient children tend to display the following attributes:

Social competence

Resilient children tend to be responsive, socially adept, capable of initiating and sustaining close relationships with adults and peers, and able to show appropriate empathy. They have good communication and conflict resolution skills, and possess a healthy sense of humour. 

Problem-solving skills

The resilient child is typically able to think creatively and flexibly about problems, to make plans and take action on them. They are able to ask adults for help when needed, and show resourcefulness in dealing with problems.


Resilient children show a healthy degree of independence, are able to think and act autonomously from adults, and are able to reflect critically on their environment. They have a well-developed sense of their own identity and believe in their own ability to effect changes in their environment.


Optimism encompasses the sense of having a bright future, a tendency to see challenging situations in positive terms, and a belief in one`s ability to deal with whatever life brings.