Resiliency is Natural:
Supporting Children’s Developmental Stages and Needs Helps Them Achieve Resilience
By Jacqueline King-Presant, M.Ed.
Resilience is an Interconnected Aspect and Outcome of Natural Development
Resiliency is an all-important mindset that is declining in children and young adults
today 8 (Read more on this topic in my earlier article in
Empowering Children Towards Resiliency.) Resiliency is also connected with every other part of healthy development.
If a child’s
developmental needs are met, they will feel safe enough to venture out
into the types of new and difficult experiences that must be encountered
to gain resilience. 2, 3 They will also be in a better state
in which to approach and orient themselves towards these experiences,
Resiliency is Natural
Nature seems to have equipped children with a pre-disposed trajectory towards
achieving resilience through natural drives which occur at different stages.
According to Erick Erickson, 4
each developmental stage has its own crisis, which can be seen as an
opportunity to become resilient in a certain way. The outcome of each
successfully navigated childhood crisis, is an important component of
resilience: hope, will, purpose, and competency.
example, one of the crises that occurs in toddlerhood is the autonomy
vs. shame and doubt crisis; with a positive outcome of
“will.” The strong will our children display at this stage, while sometimes
difficult, is important to support so that it can be used to overcome
later struggles with resilience. We support it by understanding and
supporting the child’s need to take risks, feel independent and powerful; and participate in
daily “real” tasks autonomously at this stage. 5 While we support their
emotions in the ways I will describe in the next article, they will be
well on the way to a resilient mindset.
While no two children are the same, and each follows their own
developmental trajectory, it is helpful to familiarize ourselves with
norms of children’s developmental processes, stages, and abilities so that we can support
them in gaining each of the important aspects of resilience. 6
It also helps us to set realistic expectations 4 through more
accurately predicting their abilities.
A Firm Foundation
According to classic child developmental theorist Abraham Maslow, some
basic foundational needs of a child are food, water, shelter, warmth,
sleep, security, affection, and acceptance. 7 Other needs arise at different times in a person’s
development. If at any point any of these needs are, or are felt to be,
unmet; the person’s resilience during a particular situation can be affected. 6
foundation of having basic needs met, means that children will be able
to access the more evolved, “smarter” parts of their brain during struggles and difficult situations. 6
This ability to stay calm and think through a situation leads to the
confidence to face any challenge with resilience.
basic needs are not met, one can get locked into less evolved parts of
the brain, such as the amygdala or lizard brain, 8, 6
which are responsible for releasing stress hormones that inhibit the
ability to stay calm and problem solve. In fact, anything that
stimulates the amygdala (such as fear, overstimulation, and screens/toys
with flashing lights for younger children 9) can inhibit this
problem solving ability, and therefore one’s
ability to confidently navigate life’s challenges.
important – and fulfilling – need for parents to focus
on is unconditional love and acceptance, which equates to love and
security for a child. 3, 6, 10 As doctors Brooks and Goldstein
state in their book Raising Resilient Children
“Feeling [unconditionally] loved, special, and appreciated is a cornerstone of a
child’s resilient mindset” 3
Children also need to feel autonomous and powerful (and this drive is
intense during the early childhood years), just as they need to feel
loved and supported in other ways; so it is helpful to ask ourselves
whether these needs are being met. However, if they aren’t,
our children will let us know through their behavior –
it is just up to us to interpret this behavior and understand what it is
calling for. Rather than set more limits or restrictions, often it is
more independence, feelings of being powerful, as well as love and
understanding that is needed during difficult times with our children!
Later on, in the middle and late childhood years, the developmental drives for
feeling “good at” something become important, as does the drive to feel socially
successful. So supporting our children through allowing them to
participate in the activities they enjoy so that they may become
proficient at those activities and giving them support socially can go a
When we understand our children’s
developmental needs, we understand why punishments like “time out”
may not be a choice that are in line with our goal of resiliency for our children: They leave the
foundational needs of acceptance and affiliation with one’s tribe – family or social unit
unmet. This can leave a child stuck in less-evolved parts of the brain
long after the experience. This makes it impossible for them to truly
take anything away from the intervention (of punishment), other than
their perception that their parent
does not understand their needs in the moment, that they are not worthy
of being around the family or social group, and possibly not to get
caught doing whatever it was they were doing (if they are even
capable of impulse-regulation yet, which very young children are not).
11, 6 In fact, in the brain; “time out”
shows up basically the same way as a traumatic event –
leaving a child with fewer emotional resources with which to truly
process and understand events. 6 It is actually more useful
– as well as enjoyable for all involved –
to focus on connecting, informing, and problem solving together whenever
A little knowledge and trust in our children’s
developmental process goes a long way towards supporting their
resilience. Through this, we also greatly strengthen our relationship
with them, which is a most valuable resource for any child. Also integral to
understanding and supporting our children’s
development and resilience is knowing how to normalize failure,
struggle, and big emotions – as well as how to help them gain emotional intelligence and coping
skills. We can also encourage healthy risk taking, independence, and
problem solving skills in specific ways.
This is the second in a series of
four articles on this topic by Jacqueline King-Presant, M.Ed., a child
development specialist and consultant. The other articles are:
Empowering Children Towards Resiliency
Supporting Children's Emotional Intelligence for Resilience
Supporting Independence, Risk Taking, Perseverance, and Problem Solving for Resilience
1 Gray, P., Ph.D. (2015). Declining Student Resilience: A serious problem for colleges.
2 6 Steps to Building Kindness and Resilience with Dan Siegal (videos). The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.
3 Brooks, R., Ph.D. & Goldstein, Ph.D. (2001). Raising Resilient
Children. Chicago: Contemporary Books
4 McLeod, S. (2013) Erick Erickson. Simple Psychology.
5 Lillard, P.P. & Jessen, L.L. (2003) Montessori From the Start: The child at home, from
birth to age three. New York: Schocken
6 Siegal, D., M.D. & Bryson, T.P., Ph.D. (2011) The Whole Brain Child. New York: Delacorte
7 McLeod, S. (2016) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
8 Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books
9 Payne, K.J., M.A. & Ross, L. (2010) Simplicity Parenting. New York: Ballantine Books
10 Siegal, D., Ph.D. & Hartzell, M., M.Ed. (2003) Parenting From the Inside Out: How a
deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive. New York: TarcherPerigree
11 Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by Rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive
plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. New York: Mariner Books.