Fostering resilience in children - what is the role of the family?

Written by Stephanie Moriarty - 20th July 2022 

A full list of sources and references can be found at the end of this article.


Resilience is a term used widely across education and early years, but how much is this term actually understood to its fullest extent? In its simplest form, resilience relates to the ability to stay calm and recover from challenges (Cherry, 2022). When concerning children, resilience can relate to how children cope with transitions they may face, including moving into day care, or the birth of a new sibling. When considering these transitions, it is apparent that these are situations that can affect a child’s well-being on a longer-lasting basis than just the initial transition. There are many factors that can affect a child’s resilience and perceived resilience, including their family make up and structure. 

There are many benefits of children being resilient, including their ability to react positively to a setback and building their confidence and self-esteem to problem solve for themselves (Raising Children Network, 2021). Likewise, a child who has good resilience may master new skills quicker, and be more confident in trying a variety of new tasks at once (Coyle, 2011). There is a clear correlation to social and emotional development and a child’s resilience, and better resilience can improve a child’s mental health (Barber, 2020). Resilience can be inherited to some extent; however, this can be built upon in a number of ways. It is important to identify that a child’s home and family life can contribute to their resilience in both positive and negative ways.

When considering a ‘resilient family’, they are significantly more likely to have flexible roles within their family unit and have logical problem solving strategies alongside strong and effective communication methods (Walsh, 1998). Naturally, when a family is productive and working effectively, a child will experience their primary carers’ resilience and learn through this too, becoming more naturally resilient. However, ‘dysfunctional families’ may pose a risk factor for children. McCubbin and McCubbin (1993) explained that resilience is an ongoing adjustment process where regular adaptations are needed to reflect the current situation, which some families find easier than others due to their formation. They also noted that sometimes there may be so many stressors occurring at the same time, that families struggle to bounce back from these as quickly as they may have done previously (McCubbin and McCubbin, 1993). This suggests the idea that resilience isn’t always positive and can change depending on the individual circumstances of the family. 

Some factors to consider within the family unit as indicators that a child may have lower resilience include: a parent’s mental health and well-being, safeguarding concerns, harsh or ‘poor’ parenting styles and a range of socio-economic factors, including poor housing and location (Barber, 2020). It is also necessary to discuss some of the longer-lasting implications that have risen due to Covid-19. The Health Visitors Association identified there was an increased risk of factors such as parental conflict, domestic violence and abuse, poverty and food poverty and even unemployment (Royal Foundation, 2020). 

The Royal Foundation Report (2020) identified that during the pandemic, there was a significant increase in parental loneliness and this was more notable in more deprived areas. From this report, over 35% of parents recognised that the pandemic had a negative effect on their mental health and over 70% felt judged because of their mental health. Significantly, over 35% of parents felt that others were more likely to judge them if their child was behaving badly within a public space. These statistics all show a negative trend in the amount of families feeling supported and confident in their own mental health, but also their perceived parenting abilities. Remembering that parents, caregivers, and family structures have a significant impact on the child’s resilience, it is important to address some of these issues and how they can be overcome, or challenged, to better support a child’s family and improve their outcomes in terms of resilience.

Fortunately, resilience is something that can be worked on to make better improvements for the resilience of a family, and consequently children too. One strategy that could be promoted to families is the use of a routine. Having a structured and regular routine allows primary carers and children to be aware of what is coming next, and how to adapt their behaviour when these situations are adapted. Open and honest communication is necessary within a family unit. Communication will show a child that it is important to have their thoughts and feelings heard, but also understood and discussed. This supports resilience by allowing children to understand that they can discuss situations rather than becoming a catastrophe that is unmanageable for the child or the family unit. A simple strategy that can be used across families is positivity. Looking at a situation from another point of view, rather than focusing on negatives allows children to learn to see that there may not always be a truly positive outcome, but there may be a silver lining to a situation that they can focus on instead. 

Resilience arguably contributes to successful growth into an adult in society, it is a skill that supports healthy personal, social and emotional development. There are clear factors that are shaped and supported by the family unit, which can be positive or negative habits that children pick up on and reflect within their own lives. Some situations are unavoidable, and negative lessons can be unavoidable. However, families have a significant role to play in supporting children to learn how to deal with these situations. Fostering independence and confidence in children from a young age allows children to become more capable to deal with negative challenges when they inevitably arise.   Building positive skills to allow children to overcome challenges is a lifelong skill that all children can learn from a very young age that can have the power to change their outlook on life.



Barber, J., 2020. Growing and supporting children's emotional resilience. [online] Foundation Stage Forum. Available at:  [Accessed 20 June 2022].

Cherry, K., 2022. What Is Resilience?. [online] Very Well Mind. Available at:  [Accessed 20 June 2022].

Coyle, J. (2011). Resilient Families Help Make Resilient Children, Journal of Family Strengths: Vol. 11 : Iss. 1 , Article 5. Available at: 

McCubbin, M. A., & McCubbin, H. I. (1993). Families coping with illness: The resiliency model of family stress, adjustment, and adaptation. In C. B. Danielson, B. Hamel-

Bissell, & P. Winstead-Fry (Eds.), Families, health, and illness: Perspectives on coping and intervention (pp. 21-63). St. Louis, MO: Mosby

Raising Children Network, 2021. Resilience: how to build it in children 3-8 years. [online] Raising Children Network. Available at:,the%20foundation%20of%20children's%20resilience.  [Accessed 20 June 2022].

Royal Foundation, 2020. State of the Nation: Understanding Public Attitudes to the Early Years. [online] London: Ipsos. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 June 2022].

Walsh, F. (1998). Strengthening family resilience. New York, NY: Guilford. 


Stephanie Moriarty is an Early Years Lecturer at an FE college within the West Midlands. Academically, Steph has completed a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education Studies, has Early Years Teacher Status and a Masters in Education.