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Building Resilience and Promoting Protective Factors in Children

It is a fact of life that children and families will at some time experience stress. Children may be exposed to stress through natural disasters, community violence, abuse, neglect, divorce, death of a loved one, or separation from a parent due to military service. Many young children experience the more common stresses of harassment from a sibling, rejection by peers, or adjusting to multiple caregivers. These events can cause young children to feel vulnerable, worried, fearful, sad, frustrated, or lonely.

Parents, early childhood educators, and other adults try to keep children safe by preventing stress and trauma. This is not always possible. Adults can, however, promote resilience in young children by fostering protective factors that can help to cushion the negative effects of stress and trauma. 

Resilience is a child’s ability to cope, and even thrive, following a negative experience. This is not an inherit trait but something that has to be developed and nurtured. 

Research has emphasized the importance of early childhood as a time for promoting resilience. Building a strong parent-child relationship in the first three years of life is vital for developing the sense of security and safety a child feels. This period of time in a child’s brain development is one of rapid cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and motor development. .Positive relationships provide the foundation for young children to develop the resources and skills they need to cope and adapt to adversity throughout childhood and the rest of their lives. 

Children who demonstrate resilience come from families and communities that provide caring and support, hold high expectations, and encourage children’s participation. When adults provide responsive care to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, children learn to trust others. When children are held to high expectations by their parents or other caregivers, children begin to believe in themselves and realize that they are capable. When adults encourage children to participate in the family or classroom by giving them responsibilities, young children feel a sense of belonging and competence.

The resilience of Infants and toddlers can be developed by adults expressing their love for a child both verbally and physically. It is important to acknowledge a child’s feelings, teach how to describe those feelings, and commend a child for expressing feelings of hurt or sadness without acting out. 

To support preschoolers, adults can express love, acknowledge achievements, build feelings of trust and safety with consistent support, encourage independence, explain the rationale for rules a child is told to follow, and show the child what empathy and caring look and sound like. Building strong connections with friends and family can support children during challenges and teach them to think about and consider other people’s feelings.

When protective factors are in place, children can experience positive development that helps them cope with the trauma and stress they may encounter.

ZERO TO THREE’S series of handouts with information about supporting health brain development in the first 3 years of life: 

 “I Am Safe and Secure: Promoting Resilience in Young Children,” an article by Peter J. Pizzolongo and Amy Hunter, first published in the March 2011 issue of Young Children, a publication of The National Association for the Education of Young Children., 

For free child are referrals visit Care About Childcare at

Care About Childcare @ Children’s Service Society is funded by the Department of Workforce Services/Office of Child Care. For more resources, visit our website at and click on Care About Childcare.

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655 East 4500 South, Suite 200
Salt Lake City, UT 84107

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Children's Service Society · 655 East 4500 South · Suite 200 · Salt Lake City, UT 84107 · USA

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