Resilient teens can adapt to change and are learning to cope with adversity. They have effective problem-solving and coping skills that allow them to respond to conditions in their lives that would otherwise negatively affect their well-being. They have a hopeful view of their personal future. Resilience is important for all children, but especially for children who are disadvantaged. What makes children disadvantaged? It has been asserted that while poverty is a stress in its own right, it is more likely that a combination of stresses — that may or may not be associated with poverty — undermine competence and resiliency. (271) Children from families who are neglectful, violent and abusive are disadvantaged, whether or not they are poor.

On the other hand, children from poor families are likely to have more emotional and behavioural problems. In fact, there is an active income gradient at work. At each level of higher income the frequency of problems decreases. (93) This is in keeping with the broader findings about what determines health and well-being in the general population.

Studies have shown that individual health increases with income. However, the overriding factor in determining the health of the population is the degree of inequity — the size of the gap between rich and poor in a given society. (274) The reasons for this are unclear, but there is growing evidence that it is the powerlessness and lack of control over one’s life that makes poor people less healthy. To varying degrees, these outcomes are the result of disadvantages experienced in childhood. (276)

Thus, it is a rational and moral obligation of a civic society to reduce inequities and to help all families and children build resiliency and overcome disadvantages. From a risk reduction perspective, activities that foster social competence are strategies for high risk adolescents for preventing unwanted pregnancies, drug use and school drop-out. From a health promotion perspective, they are ways of equipping all young people (and especially those who face multiple stresses) with resources for resisting stress and fostering positive development. (272)

Programs aimed at helping children with emotional, behavioural and academic problems must be aimed at children from all types of families. These interventions, however, may be particularly important to children in risk situations. An analysis of the data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth shows that children’s development is adversely affected when they are exposed to a number of risks. The most influential of these are family dysfunction, low social support and low income. The first two factors seem to have the most negative effect. While children from low income families may need help in certain areas, they need not be considered at risk in many others. (93) In other words, being poor does not necessarily mean disadvantage and disadvantage does not necessarily mean being poor. A well-parented child in a poor family may not be disadvantaged while a wealthy child from a dysfunctional family may in fact be.

Gender appears to influence how young people respond to stress. Girls are more likely to exhibit emotional distress and to internalize it than boys. between the ages of four and seven, 3 percent of girls are "worried"; this increases to 8 percent between the ages of eight and eleven. (93) Boys, on the other hand, are also more likely to exhibit "outward" and aggressive behaviour in response to stress. Boys are more likely to drop out or be expelled from school. (277)

Success in school is important to social adjustment, self-esteem and resiliency. Disadvantaged children are more likely to have difficulties focussing their attention and are at greater risk for school failure. However, good child care and early interventions during the school years can help children make a successful adjustment to school. (271) Schools that help vulnerable children succeed provide a safe, structured and enriched environment in which children feel respected and challenged. They support strong parental involvement and high but achievable standards.

Sometimes risks experienced in one part of a child’s life, such as chronic illness or disability, can be counteracted by close family ties and external support systems including the school and community. Given these kinds of supports, some children are even strengthened by their struggle against adversity. (244) When children or families are marginalized or rejected, however, due to disabilities, poverty, religion, isolation, race, illiteracy, ethnicity or other factors, their emotional and social adjustment is highly likely to suffer.

Marginalization, poverty, discrimination, cultural alienation, loss of the parenting role (when children were taken away) and an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness are all factors in the lives of many Aboriginal families in Canada.

Unfortunately, a whole generation of children were separated from their families and raised in residential schools. Many of the children were so damaged by this experience that they are unable to parent at the level required. Thus, victims have inadvertently become victimizers in some cases. As a result, the rate of suicide and substance abuse among Aboriginal young people is truly alarming. At the same time, healing, resilience and empowerment have become hallmarks of Aboriginal communities who have made healthy child development a priority in their efforts to take control of their lives and their health.

Adolescents who can adapt when faced with adversity have three kinds of protective factors: a cohesive and stable family, sources of external support and particular coping skills and resources. (251)

Influences on the positive outcome: Adaptability

Supportive home environment

Support of significant others


Supportive learning and living environments

Note: These influences are also listed in the drop-down list above. Please use this menu to navigate within this page.

Supportive home environment

Many families do a remarkable job of helping their children build resilience despite the presence of chronic stress, crises or hardships. Their efforts to create a supportive home environment deserve the support of those around them.


Help your children feel loved and connected.

  • Show affection, love and respect.

  • Spend time with your children. Enjoy family activities together — picnics, swimming, family rituals and work projects you do together.

  • Seek help if you are unable to be close to your children due to depression or other problems.

Help children feel secure by providing a safe home, building trust, managing conflict and establishing well-defined limits.

  • Establish limits or boundaries of acceptability. These may be related to the treatment of others, the value of honesty, respect for other’s property, and expectations for completing chores, homework, etc.

  • Use discipline that is firm but not coercive – do not bully or shame children or withhold age-appropriate freedoms. Harsh, coercive parenting is associated with antisocial behaviour, academic problems, peer rejection and depression. (247) Encourage adolescents to verbalize their feelings and to negotiate successfully within the family.

  • For solid advice on living with adolescents, see recommended reading for parents.

  • Address conflicts directly and use negotiation to resolve them.

  • Seek help immediately if you or your children are exposed to family violence and/or abuse.

Help your children succeed and cope.

  • Set high but achievable standards and support your child's efforts to achieve them. Recognize your child and adolescent's hard work and achievements.

  • Deal openly with feelings of anxiety in times of family crisis, for example, separation or divorce. Reassure your children that they are loved and encourage them to talk about their feelings. Seek help for yourself and your children if you or they continue to feel overwhelmed.

  • Help your children deal with stress and conflict and encourage them to take a positive "I can do it" attitude.

  • Reach out to isolated parents to help them be involved in their children’s schools.

  • Make immigrant parents feel at home in the school through heritage language classes. Celebrate the holidays, songs and foods of the nationalities represented at school and by providing information in native languages.

  • Sponsor groups and events where parents can learn about normal changes in adolescence, how to recognize signs of distress and how to support their children in times of stress.

  • Support programs that teach parenting skills and how to deal with the approach of adolescence.

  • Provide support to children after a separation or divorce. There is evidence that post-divorce programs in grades four to six that emphasize communication skills, the expression of feelings, problem solving, anger control and enhancing self-esteem may improve both academic achievement and social and emotional functioning. (87)


  • Provide support and training to parents on how to promote positive social behaviour and effectively manage behavioural problems in preteen children. The Montréal Intervention Program is one example of a successful program that provided support to both parents and disruptive boys.

  • Help families learn to interact successfully with their children and to reduce family conflict through parenting programs, outreach to troubled families, visits by public health nurses, parent-school partnerships, public education campaigns, etc. Children who grow up in violent homes learn to use violence as a way of coping.

  • Provide opportunities for families to strengthen family and cultural ties. The Dene Yati Project is one example of how a community in the Northwest Territories helped young people and families strengthen their relationships and their common cultural identity.

  • Implement programs to prevent child abuse and family violence.

  • Provide safety and support for parents and children dealing with family violence.

  • Ensure that foster parents have a good understanding of healthy child development. Try to link children with foster families who share a common cultural, geographic and economic background. One example of this is The Inner City Foster Parents Program in downtown Eastside Vancouver.


  • Provide family-friendly policies, for example, flexible hours, work-at-home arrangements and the option of voluntary job sharing to allow parents to spend time with their children.

  • Invite speakers and agencies to talk with parents about child development and the transition to adolescence.

  • Provide employee assistance programs (EAP) that include counseling on parenting practices and help for parents in situations involving family violence.

  • Consider the effect of downsizing on your workforce and expecting remaining employees to put in many hours of overtime, on the time and energy workers have left to devote to their families.


  • Invest in proven prevention initiatives that promote healthy child development (for example, homevisiting, school-based programs, preschool programs).

  • Implement policies and programs that provide training and work opportunities for parents so that they can support their families.

  • Sponsor the development, evaluation and sharing of best practice interventions that prevent family violence.

  • Sponsor literacy and English/French-as-a-second-language programs for parents who require it.

Support of significant others

Children in chronically stressful circumstances such as those who live in poverty or who experience the death of a parent or sibling may not find in their immediate family the key attachment they need to succeed in life. In these cases, another caring and concerned adult who offers security and guidance can compensate for loss and sharply reduce the probability of negative developmental outcomes. (251) Children who have opportunities for mentoring relationships with adults, including relatives, teachers, ministers, recreation workers and others who nurture and respect them get along better with others than those who do not. (93)

Peer mentoring is also an effective way to support young people. When children form meaningful attachments to helpers who are slightly older than themselves, they have more opportunities to learn positive values and to get along with others. For more information about peer mentoring, see The Peer Helping Annotated and Indexed Bibliography.

  • Be a mentor for a child or youth in your extended family.

  • Encourage your children to spend time with other family members and trusted adults in the community.

  • Encourage your children to join activities at school and in the community that are led by trusted adults and peers.

  • Provide training for teachers and coaches that promotes an understanding of child development and the importance of mentoring.

  • Create a school climate that encourages mentoring.

  • Provide opportunities for peer counseling and peer mentoring. The Cultural Program at Joe Duquette High School in Saskatoon brings peer teachers and elder mentors together to teach skills and traditional ways to grade nine students.

  • Collaborate with business and community organizations to set up mentoring programs. For example, in Hamilton, Ontario, the Big Brothers Association, the Bank of Montreal and two school boards have teamed up to offer a mentoring program to inner-city schoolchildren under the Industry-Education Council initiative.

  • Support mentoring programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

  • See to it that staff of youth-serving recreational programs and agencies understand the importance of mentoring to social adjustment.

  • Support intergenerational initiatives that involve children and older citizens with each other.

  • Support peer-led activities and provide training for peer leaders.

  • Collaborate with workplaces and schools to set up mentoring programs. For example, in Hamilton, Ontario, the Big Brothers Association, the Bank of Montreal and two school boards have teamed up to offer a mentoring program to inner-city schoolchildren under the Industry Education Council initiative.

  • Encourage churches and faith communities to establish mentoring programs.

  • Encourage ethnic and cultural organizations to establish mentoring programs.

  • Consider setting up a mentoring program with retired or current staff and children who have an interest in your business’ area of work.

  • Collaborate with community agencies and schools to set up mentoring programs. For example, in Hamilton, Ontario, the Big Brothers Association, the Bank of Montreal and two school boards have teamed up to offer a mentoring program to inner-city schoolchildren under the Industry Education Council initiative.

Supportive learning and living environments

Schools, communities and governments can help children develop the personal skills of resiliency: self-esteem, intellectual skills, problem solving abilities, social skills and self-efficacy (a sense that one can succeed). (251) Key strategies include giving children meaningful opportunities to participate, having high but achievable expectations, providing safe, healthy environments and undertaking efforts to reduce inequities.

Although research on how community environments affect children and families is complex, some studies suggest the quality of community life has an effect on children independent of their individual family circumstances. (234) Therefore, broad strategies that build healthy communities are likely to have a positive effect on the healthy development of children.

In uncivic communities that are marked by an absence of shared beliefs, values and norms and by persuasive mistrust and a lack of social cohesion, a higher level of parental involvement and more effective discipline and monitoring are needed to overcome the negative effects of the community. (190) Neighbourhoods high in crime, density and drug abuse but low in cohesion or a sense of control are likely to undermine even many committed families’ attempts to raise children successfully. (337, 234, 190)

Provide a welcoming school environment that promotes self-esteem, optimal learning and socialization.

  • Show young people that you value and respect them by giving them meaningful roles in the school community. Provide opportunities for students to take leadership roles and to make meaningful decisions about activities and policies in the school.

  • Provide clear, school-wide expectations for academic achievement, appropriate conduct, instructional practices and student responsibilities. Provide the structure and enrichment required to help less well-prepared students achieve these expectations.

  • Involve students, parents and teachers in decisions related to the school environment.

  • Provide strong administrative leadership.

  • Provide in-school and after-school opportunities for children to improve their social skills and ability to cooperate, for example, volunteer work, activities that stress fun and a sense of belonging.

  • Make the learning of life skills such as decision-making, problem solving and conflict resolution part of the school experience or curriculum.

  • Help students learn how to solve conflicts in a non-violent, productive way. This can include programs in conflict resolution, assertiveness training, anger management and peer mediation – in which trained, neutral schoolmates help other students resolve conflicts. The Unloading Zone is an example of a program that teaches young people that managing anger is an important part of personal growth.

  • Give children and youth opportunities to participate in enjoyable, non-competitive physical activities and other interest groups that help them learn to get along with others.

  • Maintain a positive peer culture that helps to prevent the formation of gangs and antisocial peer groups.

  • Cooperate with community policing programs and invite school liaison officers to talk with staff and students.

  • For information on strategies to prevent antisocial behaviour in schools, see recommended reading for schools.

Support students who are having difficulties.

  • Monitor children who have learning problems and provide assistance early to those who are having difficulty. Students who achieve academically tend to have better relationships and more positive social behaviour.

  • Provide support to children who are under stress in ways that fit easily into the school environment. The Ryerson Outreach / Ryerson Community Initiative and Communities in Schools are two examples of collaborative helping programs that have been shown to be effective.

  • Provide support to students who are struggling with long-term problems and academic difficulties. One example is a program at Curé-Antoine-Labelle Secondary School in Laval that helps students between the ages of 13 and 16 learn self-responsibility and how to form solid relationships with adult helpers.

  • Monitor the safety of the school environment and take action immediately if bullying, threatening or property damage occurs. For information on a model program, see ASAP: A School-Based Antiviolence Program.

Support projects that increase the safety and civility of high risk neighbourhoods.

  • KidSafe is an example of a Vancouver project that uses schools to provide safe places for children to go on holidays and schools breaks.

Provide activities that promote good citizenship and leadership development, and reduce aggressive behaviour.

  • Invite youth to take the lead in developing community activities that prevent crime and reduce violence. Youth Action Teams are developing safety and violence prevention activities in over 65 communities in British Columbia.

  • Provide recreation and skill development programs (both athletic and non-athletic skills) that are affordable to all. These build positive social behaviour and can help reduce antisocial behaviour in the community. Make a special effort to help disadvantaged children develop the skills they need to join in mainstream activities. The PALS Project – Participate and Learn Skills which took place in Ottawa, is an example of an effective community-based program for disadvantaged children living in a public housing unit. The Boys and Girls Club of Canada: Active Living Initiative demonstrates how a variety of physical activities can benefit young people.

  • Work with police school liaison officers to educate students and families, and cooperate with schools to provide violence prevention programs. For information on a model program, see ASAP: A School-Based Antiviolence Program.

  • Support youth-serving agencies that help children and youth learn to get along with others, as well as providing skill development activities, for example, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, and 4H Clubs.

  • Work with schools to develop programs for students who are having academic and social problems. CAPSLE is one example of a program that offers intensive support to young people between the ages of 10 and18 who have been suspended from school. Communities in Schools helped young people build resilience in the face of disadvantage.

  • Work with schools to develop literacy and English/French-as-a-second language programs for families and children.

  • Project Chance is an example of a community-based project that supports single mothers and their children.

  • Cooperate with schools to provide effective after-school programs.

Actively involve youth in decisions, policies and programs that affect them; give them the chance to develop leadership skills and take on leadership roles.

  • Show young people that you value and respect them by giving them responsibility in the community. For example, in Surrey, British Columbia, young people helped to design Bear Creek Park and will be in charge of running it.

  • Work with communities, schools and governments to fund and support prevention programs which work. See ASAP: A School-Based Antiviolence Program for a good example of this kind of collaboration.

  • Work with schools and youth-serving agencies to set up work/volunteer activities for children and youth in the workplace.

  • Sponsor programs and summer camps that help children learn life and learning skills.

  • Adopt a school. Encourage staff to serve as mentors and support extracurricular activities.

  • Reduce income inequities through job creation and training programs for parents and taxation/fiscal policies that recognize the expense and value of raising children. Don't make it harder for parents who prefer to stay home to raise their children by keeping the childcare deduction larger than the spousal deduction.

  • Invest in effective child and youth development activities for all children and
    young people. Fund the development, evaluation and sharing of best practices in child development.

  • Fund services and programs that help disadvantaged children overcome barriers and build resiliency. They are a good investment in the future.

  • Support multidisciplinary prevention activities in schools that address both academic and behavioural outcomes through the creation of a supportive environment.

  • Support early intervention activities for students who are experiencing reading difficulties and other academic problems.

  • Offer incentives to create after-school programs that help children make a successful transition to adolescence.

  • Support/fund coalition building among youth-serving agencies, schools and parent groups.

  • Support literacy and English/French-as-a-second language programs for families and children who require this assistance.

  • Actively involve youth in decisions, policies and programs that affect them; give them opportunities to develop leadership skills and take on leadership roles. The City of Vancouver Civic Youth Strategy involves youths as active partners in the development and delivery of civic services that directly affect young people.

  • Fund research on best practices and the dissemination of information about programs which work. See ASAP: A School-Based Antiviolence Program for an example of how governments, the private sector and the community can work together to develop model programs.

  • Actively take the lead in increasing public awareness and support for the need to value children and youth as shared, precious, natural resources that represent society’s future. (271)

Aware of any innovative programs, legislation or initiatives that are relevant to this positive outcome?
This is your chance to let us know!

We are always on the lookout for specific strategies proven to be successful (or showing promise), that illustrate work done in this area. After reading this section of the site, click on the icon below and share your ideas.

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