Volume:4, Issue: 2

Aug. 15, 2012

Resiliency in Early Childhood Practices
Jones, Vita L. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: definition of resiliency, five components of resilience: individual, relationship, community, cultural, and physical ecology.
SYNOPSIS: The author gives a definition of resiliency, and describes five components of resilience. She shows that educators of young students require strategies that will support their implementation of resilience building components.  

The concept of resilience in students has been discussed for several decades (Waxman, Gray, & Padron, 2003).  Educators, parents and community stakeholders understand the necessity of producing a viable workforce. Throughout a child’s academic discourse students may be exposed to various adversities or setbacks, which threaten their scholastic ability to successfully navigate through the school system. Fostering the characteristics of resilience at an early age empowers students to compete and flourish in school settings. The early development of these characteristics instills hope, self-discipline, and autonomy (Waxman, Gray, & Padron, 2003). 

While researchers from numerous fields of inquiry examine resilience from differing perspectives, it is commonly agreed that it is the ability of a human being to triumph over adversity. It is to this end, that researchers agree that furthering a line of research on resilience is beneficial. Developing skills in young children to offset risk and build successful coping skill is essential as an early childhood developmental milestone (Ungar, 2003). The foundational elements of resilience span a lifetime and enable students to become resilient adults, better equipped to face the challenges of higher education or workforce. Schools of thought from psychology, sociology and even anthropology all echo the basic requisite for resiliency building in a young child’s life (Ungar, 2003; Brown, 2001; Milstein & Henry, 2000).

Resiliency is defined as a dynamic process that varies between individuals and within individuals with and without learning disabilities and as such allows the individial to maintain adaptive functioning in spite of identified risk factors (e.g., academic, social, behavioral) (Spekman, Golberg, & Herman, 1993).  The definition of resiliency encompasses the ability to deal with stress and pressure in everyday challenges in structural conditions (e.g., school, home), relationships, and cultural/political situations (Goldstein, 2006; Ungar, 2003). For students with learning disabilities, this involves their ability (e.g., resilience) to deal with the challenges they experience in academic situations, social interactions, and behavioral functioning (Smith & Nagle, 1995).

5 Components of Resilience
Individual Components

The individual constructs of resiliency are the internal characteristics that are located within the student’s psychological makeup that contribute to the ability to become centered during difficult times (Condly, 2006). For young students with disabilities, the primary skill to instill is that dealing with self-understanding, acceptance of self, and a feeling of autonomy (Gerber, Ginsberg, & Reiff, 1992).  Early childhood instruction to build individual resiliency in young students with disabilities should focus on:  (a) assertiveness and self-determination; (b) problem solving; (c) the development of self-efficacy; (d) internal locus of control; (e) self-awareness; (f) awareness of social support /social skills; (g) goal setting; (h) self-esteem; and, (i) balancing independence and dependence (Aberenathy & Cheney, 2005; Bandura, 1997; Blocker & Copeland, 1994; Brown, 2004; Harvey, 2007; Hippe, 2004; Miller, 1995; Palombo, 2001; Wehmeyer, Hughes, Agran, Garner, & Yeager, 2003).  It has been shown that individual resiliency constructs should be taught early and often to increase positive post-school outcomes as well as set young students up for favorable post-school outcomes (Brooks, 1994; Hall & Pearson, 2005; Shessel & Reiff, 1999).

Relationship Components

Young students entering school for the first time require the ability to connect and form ties in a positive manner with peers, parents, and teachers (Brooks, 2001; Bryan, 2005; Seng, 1999).  To adequately develop these relationships, resiliency instruction should focus in the areas of: (a) expressing emotions appropriately; (b) exhibiting social competence; (c) forming meaningful relationships with others, including a significant mentor within the school setting; and, (d) developing acceptance by peers (Bhandari & Barnett, 2007; Booker, 2006; Harvey, 2007; Nelson-LeGall & Glor-Sceib, 1986).  It appears for young students with disabilities that teachers play a significant role in the development of relationships across people (e.g., parents, peers, other adults).  Research indicates that the educator/child relationship provides positive experiences that enhance a student’s self-esteem and competence when interacting with others (Brooks, 1991).

Community Components

The community is an important context in which young children require support to navigate successfully.  In terms of resiliency, community involves the coming together of the school and the community in which it functions (Brandon & Brown, in press).  This involves educators working with the community to understand the values, beliefs and interests of the community as well as the impact of these on the children/youth who reside within the community (Wang & Gordon, 1994).  Resiliency cannot be taught or developed without educators considering the impact of community factors (e.g., violence, recreation, cultural factors, etc) on the child/youth (Brooks, 1994).  When focusing on the community in which young students with disabilities live, it is important for educators to consider the type and quality of service provided to the community, as well as the depth and breadth of the services (Spekman, Goldberg, & Herman, 1993).

Cultural Components

Cultural resiliency components are those that influence young students at home and school and involve the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the child/youth.  These characteristics are important resources in the development of resiliency for young students with disabilities in that culture often serves as a protective factor for children/youth (Wang & Gordon, 1994).  Cultural considerations that should be considered are: (a) affiliations with various groups (e.g., churches, social organizations); (b) tolerance for difference; (c) cultural dislocation; (d) cultural philosophy; and, (e) cultural investment (e.g., knowing one’s history and cultural traditions) (Brown, 2007; Goldstein, 2006; Jones, 2007; Hewitt, 2005; Ogbu, 2004).  Educators must respect and incorporate the cultural constructs of their students in instructional activities for resiliency to develop (Jones, 2009). 

Physical Ecology Components

Physical ecology constructs involve a young student’s access to a healthy and safe environment (International Resiliency Project, 2007).  While educators cannot be directly responsible for the physical environments in which their students live, they can advocate for physical environments that reduce risk and stress.  Physical ecology constructs that contribute to resiliency are: (a) access to a healthy environment at home and school (e.g., housing, food); (b) feeling secure in one’s community; (c) access to recreational spaces; and, (d) sports involvement (Brooks, 1994; Duffy, 2007; Hawkins, 1992; Ungar, 2005). Because environmental factors can influence a person’s vulnerability in relation to stress, schools must work with the community to provide a healthy and safe environment around the school (Garmezy & Rutter, 1983).

Resiliency is a multi-faceted construct; educators of young students require strategies that will support their implementation of resilience building components. This characteristic does not grow in students without purposeful, deliberate action on the part of educators and families. The five components postulate a resilience framework that educators can use to evaluate educational materials, curricula, and strategies to examine how to nurture resilience in young students. By utilizing these components as their framework, early childhood special educators are better equipped to support students with disabilities.


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From “Consider the Constructs of Resiliency When Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities” by V. L. Jones and K. Higgins, LD Forum, March, 2010. Copyright 2010 by the Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD). Adapted with permission.

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