The good news is that the brain is plastic, and the body wants to heal.
The brain is continually changing in response to the environment. If the toxic stress stops and is replaced by experiences and practices that build resilience, the brain can slowly undo many of the stress-induced changes. Cultivating resilience can happen at any age.
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.
Research has identified a common set of factors that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of significant adversity. Individuals who demonstrate resilience in response to one form of adversity may not necessarily do so in response to another. Yet when these positive influences are operating effectively, they “stack the scale” with positive weight and optimize resilience across multiple contexts. These counterbalancing factors include
- supportive adult-child relationships;
- a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control;
- opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities; and
- sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions.
In sum, these factors provide a sense of safety, connectedness, and an ability to self-regulate.
Learning to cope with manageable threats is critical for the development of resilience. Not all stress is harmful. There are numerous opportunities in every child’s life to experience manageable stress—and with the help of supportive adults, this “positive stress” can be growth-promoting.
The capabilities that underlie resilience can be strengthened at any age. The brain and other biological systems are most adaptable early in life. Yet while their development lays the foundation for a wide range of resilient behaviors, it is never too late to build resilience. Age-appropriate, health-promoting activities can significantly improve the odds that an individual will recover from stress-inducing experiences.
There is well documented research on how individuals’ brains and bodies become healthier through mindfulness practices, exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and healthy social interactions. Research on families shows that interventions — such as Nurse-Family Partnership, Healthy Steps, and Child First — can improve the lives of parents and children. Evidence-based parenting practices (Incredible Years, Triple P Parenting, etc.), increase the health of parents and children.
Take a look at our handouts for a sense of what you can do now to promote your own resilience. See Actions for Resilience and Wellness and Hacking Your Vagus Nerve: Some Simple Ways to Shift into States of Social Engagement, Safety, and Self-Regulation.
For additional resources (articles, books, films, research reports, videos, and websites), see Learn more about ACES and Resilience.
(SOURCES: Harvard Center for the Developing Child and ACES Too High and The Center for the Study of Social Policy. Rev. September 2019)