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Forging Resilience Through Connection

Updated: Jan 14, 2019

“Things that don’t bend, break”-Jewel, Never Broken

We’ve heard about resilience time and time again, as though it is something we are born with, something that everyone innately has within themselves and should be able to tap into at any point in time. Often, we hear the word resilient as it relates to a big tragedy-a death, a shooting, a mass destruction- or more so, we are described as being resilient as a way to boost our confidence that we will, indeed, “get through this”, but left on our own to find the strength to be resilient, the strength to weather the storm. Perhaps we are not recognizing how resilience relates to each of us in our everyday, and how unknowingly we are building our resilience to weather not only the big, but the little storms that life inevitably throws at us.

For some people, overcoming adversity seems like an easy task and yet for others, a similar experience could feel impossible to overcome. Why would this differ, how does it differ? We often hear the rebuttal “well I have suffered, too, and have overcome it”, implying that others, too, should be able to bounce back after tragedy. Is it fair to compare one persons resilience in the face of adversity to another?

Resileince: resilience


re·​sil·​ience | \ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s \

Definition of resilience

1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress

2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

Resilience is our ability to bend instead of break when difficult times arise. Like a palm tree that grows rings around its trunk allowing it to bend and sway with the varying degrees of force mother nature throws at it, we ,too, use resilience in the same manner. But unlike the palm tree, we are not completely born with resilience.

According to Alberta Family Wellness initiative, “Resilience is not simply an inborn trait; instead, it is determined by the interplay of genes and experiences that shape brain architecture…{we can} build resilience by supporting environments rich in serve-and-return interactions and by preventing experiences that may cause toxic stress. For individuals dealing with the weight of past toxic stress, resilience can be buttressed by improving skills that enable better outcomes. Because life events aren’t always in our control, it’s important to help all children build the foundations of resilience so that they can better meet the challenges they may face during development and later in life”.

Not only do genes contribute to our resilience, genes like those that give us our unique eye color and hair color, those traits that are inherited from our parents, but so do experiences and interactions. Interactions, positive and negative ones, that through epigenetics, have the ability to change how our genes are expressed, and in turn affect how we cope through life's ups and downs. Yes, our exeriences, the good and the bad, can affect how our genes are expressed.

So how do we build resilience in our kids?

The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult…This combination of supportive relationships, adaptive skill-building, and positive experiences is the foundation of resilience”.

Resilience requires relationship.

On the flip side, isolation can have detrimental effects. Isolation that can occur through neglect by caregivers that are unable to provide positive relationships, that we may feel for not fitting society's norms, that many marginalized communities experience on a daily basis. Isolation that we as a community, as a society often contribute to, but therefore, can also prevent.

A relationship is more then just an acquaintance. It is consistent companionship during life’s ups and downs, it is reliable support in times of need, it is, as Father Gregory Boyle puts it, “Kinship– not serving the other, but being one with the other.”

Susan Pinker, of the Village Effect, writes “The right kind of social contact (hostility doesn’t work) instructs the body to secrete more endogenous opiates, which act as local painkillers, and fewer hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, corticosteroids-the bodies often destructive answer to immediate stressors-which can wage an ongoing war on our tissues and physical resilience… Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic head injury."

Resilience requires relationships. Relationships require connection.

As a community, if we can forge the path to connection, if we can build relationship in even the smallest of moments, we can help form a buffer from life's challenges and contribute to our children's resilience, contribute to resilient communities.

“A resilient community bounces back from adversity; the people of the community are mutually supported through a network of social supports. Hard times make people angry, alienated, and disengaged; resilient communities reach out to those who are socially isolated and offer support to those who need a hand”. (Canadian Community as Partner, Theory and Multidisciplinary Practice p. 216).


What if we each commit to building that strong adult relationship with ALL children we interact with?

What if we ensure EVERY interaction we have with a child is a positive one?

What if we are mindful of speaking to, of acting towards, of responding to ALL children as allies?

Even when it is hard to remain calm with the child bullying your own, even when you are in a rush and a child with their slower pace is in your way, even when the child with curiosity asks an inappropriate question that offends you? In all these instances and the 1000's of different examples we could run through, we try to make it a positive interaction, where trust is built and a connection is made.

Hold Up.

Does the above sound wishy washy, does it sound too touchy feely?

By positive interaction I’m not saying to reward poor behavior, I’m not saying to ignore wrong doing, or remove all stressors from a child’s life.

What I am encouraging is to take every interaction we have with a child as an opportunity to make a connection, to build relationship, and to build resilience.

How do we do that?

Perhaps simply by being aware, by being present, and by being supportive.

Maybe this will contribute to the safety net of social support the kids of our community need, especially those living in isolation. Maybe they will be conditioned to know that we, us adults, will always have their backs regardless of if they are ours by blood or not, knowing that not every parent, not every adult will have the ability to build that relationship. Through this, maybe our children will learn that we are ready and willing to pick them up when they fall, or better yet, perhaps it gives them the ability to bend instead of break.

A quick story: One day while in East Village of Calgary, I was walking my 3 kids down the stairs to the washroom in the Simmons building and for once, all 3 kids were walking, not goofing off, as fast but safely as they could down that narrow stair case. Suddenly, I heard the frustrated huff and puff of a gentlemen behind us, trying to dance around the narrow staircase to get passed. He went around me, but was confronted by my little humans making their way down. He didn't say excuse me, he didn't ask if they could scooch over, he just rolled his eyes and continued to huff and puff to show his frustration with my kids, who at that point looked afraid and stumbled to move out of his way. "He was an adult, he must be a leader, we move for him", I imagined them thinking. I gently encouraged them to keep going (quickly). This wasn't the first time an adult had shown frustration and annoyance at my kids when simply doing life as best they know. Learning to be independent little humans, navigating alongside their parents tying to gain confidence in this big world. This of course, is also a very MINOR example. What if instead this person smiled and said excuse me showing respect, perhaps that look of fear would turn into a look of confidence (even if some of them remained shy). A simple transition in the way we speak and respond to children that has the potential to build their confidence, to build relationship, to build a connection.

These kids will one day be the adults of our communities. If we can simply see a child before us-not an action, not a label, not an inconvenience, just a child who NEEDS connection, who needs relationships, we can help build ALL our children's confidence and resilience to move forward as the leaders they are.

"In a world where human brains inch across snowy landscapes, where perils lurk in every shadow, one community will rally behind a struggling brain—and just might change the world in the process. "
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