Understanding Resilience


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The impact of service on Military Families can be challenging or stressful at times.

For youth in particular, being in a Military Family can mean exposure to situations that their non-Military peers do not face, such as deployment of a parent, loss of a parent, or relocation. Coping with these situations, and the adjustments Families make in response to them, requires resilience. As a mentor, it is beneficial if you can support and develop your mentee’s resilience so that stressful situations become more manageable.

Understand and strengthen the resilience of Military youth.

At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Define resilience and explain its importance for Military youth;
  • Identify protective factors and risk factors; and
  • Apply strategies to strengthen resilience within Military youth.End of text

Defining Resilience

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Resilience is one’s ability to recover from or adjust to hardship or change.

Resilience is defined as one’s ability to bounce back from a hardship or change. It is closely related to traits such as hardiness, perseverance, flexibility, and optimism; however, it differs from these characteristics because someone cannot be resilient without experiencing adversity (or circumstances that cause stress).

Resiliency theory states that risk factors can be outweighed by protective factors.

It is sometimes assumed that resilience is a skill or trait that is static—either youth are resilient or they are not; however, resilience can be strengthened and increased. Not all Military youth who are exposed to adverse situations will experience emotional difficulties in their life. Part of what determines a youth’s resilience to stressful situations is the number of positive environmental factors that are present in their life. These positive factors, also called protective factors, can outweigh the adverse or stressful situations and allow youth to be more resilient in times of stress.End of text

Protective Factors and Risk Factors

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Military youth face unique risk factors.

By its very nature, Military life introduces youth to risk factors that are unique to service in the Armed Forces. Some of the stressful or challenging situations that can arise include frequent moves, the loss of a Family member, either due to deployment or in the unfortunate case of a casualty, or a parent returning from deployment with a physical or mental disability. All of these situations can put pressure on, and create stress in, the lives of youth. Without the proper support or coping skills, these risk factors can lead to negative developmental outcomes. Risk factors also build upon one another, so with more frequent and prolonged exposure to stress and adversity, it can become more difficult for youth to bounce back and build a positive emotional outlook.

Protective factors can balance risk factors.

Protective factors are the positive influences or circumstances that youth can rely on to help offset stress or adversity. The adoption of protective factors can help balance out the stress of risk factors and build resilience.

The following are examples of protective factors that can help build a youth’s resilience:

  • Warm, positive family relationships
  • Strong social community support
  • A mentor or role model
  • Consistent discipline and guidelines
  • Taking part in an activity (promotes feelings of engagement and self-direction)
  • Steady routines

Mentors can act as a protective factor for youth.

As mentors to Military youth, identifying how to positively intervene and act as a protective factor in your mentee’s life is an essential component of a successful mentor-mentee relationship. Keeping in mind the risk factors a youth may be exposed to can help mentors identify when the mentee needs support the most. However, be mindful that exposure to frequent risk does not necessarily lead to a loss of coping skills. Youth who live in poverty or unsafe neighborhoods are often exposed to chronic risk, but can still maintain the ability to cope.End of text

Strategies for Strengthening Resilience

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Developing the right mindset can help frame strategies for building resilience.

The first step for mentors looking to strengthen a youth’s ability to adapt and rebound from adversity is to adopt a resilient mindset which emphasizes that:

  1. Change is possible
  2. Behavior is transitory
  3. Families are resourceful
  4. Strengths can develop in the right environment

By embracing these notions, mentors can engage with youth in a way that is focused on positive outcomes, making room for change to take place. It is also important to realize that although mentors work primarily with the youth, building resilience is a process that can involve families and caregivers, particularly when identifying support systems and stable relationships for the youth.

A strengths approach focuses on assets and accomplishments.

A strengths approach to stress and resilience brings the focus to what a family or individual has already accomplished, or what they are capable of accomplishing. When working with Military youth and their Families, redirecting their attention towards strengths and away from deficiencies can help make the person feel strong and capable, and over time, build his resilience.

There are four key strategies that can help guide a youth and/or his Family to shift their focus from what’s going wrong to what’s going right.

  1. Reviewing goals and aspirations: What would the youth like to accomplish and why? Uncovering your mentee’s motivation may help him articulate why he wants to reach this goal. More importantly, have the youth envision what his life may look like when he reaches the goal. What’s different?
  2. Identifying a support system: What friends, extended family, mentors, or community members can the youth or family rely on when times are tough? To whom can he reach out?
  3. Identifying skills and interests: What does this youth care deeply about? What makes him feel alive and passionate? What is he good at, and how does he feel when performing this activity?
  4. Recognizing accomplishments: What has the youth already done in life that makes him feel proud? How did hard work pay off? Accomplishments don’t have to be big things; cleaning the house or finishing a book can feel just as satisfying as more grandiose accomplishments.
  5. Using a strengths approach can also help youth and their Families adapt.

    Research has shown that when families approach challenges with optimism, confidence, or hope, and combine this with a positive emotional atmosphere, they are likely to do better. Attempting to face challenges with a positive attitude and changing negative thought patterns can, over time, affect a family’s ability to better cope with stressful situations.End of text

Applying Strategies and Theory

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“Normal” is different for Military Families and youth.

For Military youth and their Families, the first step towards understanding and building greater resilience is recognizing that the circumstances and stressors they face are different from their peers. Deployments and reassignments can make it necessary for youth to relocate, change schools, and adjust to new and sometimes difficult situations. As a mentor, recognizing that these situations are normal for Military youth and their Families can help you develop a positive mindset focused on the strengths of the Family to rise to the challenge and cope with the situation.

Additional research has demonstrated that events or circumstances that are unexpected, serious, or unwelcome, and/or involve long-term suffering are likely to be more challenging, especially when the Family’s resources or protective factors are not sufficient to handle the stress caused by a traumatic event.

Mentors are a first line of support for Military youth.

Research shows that supportive, positive relationships with teachers and other adults can compensate for a child’s lack of quality parental relationships. In the event that a parent is absent, either by loss or deployment, a mentor can work to identify gaps in the youth’s current protective factors and help youth build on existing strengths to develop new protective factors and problem solving skills. Ultimately, this greater resilience will allow youth and their families to better cope with adversity of all types.

Mentors can be on the lookout for opportunities to support youth and Military Families.

The most important factor for building and maintaining resiliency in youth is high-quality parenting. Youth benefit from and need the warmth and responsiveness of their parents. In the home, they also benefit from supervision, clear standards, and routines and rituals that are maintained even during times of stress or adversity. It’s especially important to remember that teens, despite the fact that they’re almost adults themselves, still greatly benefit from parenting oversight. Research on parenting has shown that children are more likely to show resilience when parents exhibit optimism, flexibility, initiative, and effective coping skills.

Of course, parents also require support in order to be strong and compassionate toward their children. When a mentor recognizes that a youth and her family are going through a tough time, the mentor can offer support to the youth and try to connect the family with additional resources and supports in the community. It is crucial for parents to maintain their own well-being—especially if one parent remains at home while the other is deployed—and the effects of this trickle down to the well-being of the youth. One way to identify resources is to seek out peer and social networks (friends, neighbors, extended family members, etc.) that can lend vital support.End of text


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The greater your understanding of resilience, the greater impact you can have supporting Military youth.

Now that you have completed this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define resilience and explain its importance for Military youth;
  • Identify protective factors and risk factors; and
  • Apply strategies to strengthen resilience within Military youth.

To learn more about resilience of youth in Military Families, click the module resources link.

Additional online resources include:

  • FOCUS (Families Overcoming and Coping Under Stress) Program
    This program was first used with Military Families at Camp Pendleton. It has since been expanded to all branches of the Military and works to promote healthy development in children by increasing positive Family relationships and coping skills through therapies and education. Their website has information on the trainings they offer and resources that may be available in your area.
  • MFRI (Military Family Research Institute)
    This research and outreach organization is based at Purdue University and supported by the Lilly Endowment, the Department of Defense, and others. Their mission is to conduct studies that provide insight into the experiences of Military Members and their Families, and to design and implement outreach activities that assist Military Families in Indiana and beyond. Resources and information can be found on their website.

To certify completion of this module, take the lesson evaluation found here. Once you have completed the evaluation, email or return the form to your Match Supervisor.End of text

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