Resilience: What is it?

The greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving… Love is at the root of everything. Love or the lack of it.                                                                                              Fred Rogers aka Mr. Rogers

Today, the word resilience pops up everywhere, but do you know what it means in terms of the developing brain? Simply put, resilience is the ability to overcome adversity. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t born with it, but can develop it throughout our lives.

The ability to be resilient in response to adversity is a complicated combination of our genes, early environment, current environments, and many other factors. Individuals can be resilient, and so can communities, and resilient communities can help support people to flourish. For that reason, Resilient Napa endorses the broader definition of resilience that includes an acknowledgement of systems and communities.

Our Framework

Resilient Napa has adopted the following definition of resilience, which includes consideration of our environments.

“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.”  Michael Ungar, The Resilience Research Centre; What Works: A Manual for Designing Programs that Work.

Individuals need communities to flourish, and so our work within our community to help make sure people’s psychological, social, cultural and physical needs are met is as critical as individual work.

In children:

Resilience is especially important to the developing brain, because without it adversity could permanently interfere with growth. The good news is that there are many ways to promote resilience in children.

Protective experiences and coping skills on one side counterbalance significant adversity on the other. Over time, the cumulative impact of positive life experiences and coping skills can counterbalance adversity, making it easier for a child to achieve positive outcomes.

The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.

Learn more about why resilience matters, how it develops, and how to strengthen it in children by watching this short video:


To understand how individual and community positive experiences can counter negative experiences, play this fun interactive game from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard: Tipping the Scales: The Resilience Game.

In adults:

Just like in children, the most important protective factors for adults to build resilience and mitigate the impact of adversity are social connections and relationships with others.

Learn more about why resilience matters, how it develops, and how to strengthen it in children, adults and communities,  by visiting the numerous resources in our Directory.

Five Science Backed Ways to Build Resilience, by Berkeley Center for Greater Good 

Measuring Resilience in Children and Adults

Measuring resilience can be useful for a lot of reasons. One of the most important is that as people learn more about their childhood experience and the impact of stress on the brain and the body, they also need to know that’s only half the story. Asking a person to consider their protective factors and experiences helps create a full picture.

Resilience surveys are not necessarily indicative of life outcomes, and can in fact lead to more shame and guilt. Resilience has to be considered in the context of many factors. Building a complete picture of a person’s  capabilities, belonging, community, culture, and context through conversation is more likely to result in a more authentic assessment.

Resilience Measurement Tools

There are several good websites and organizations that study and work with resilience. We especially like The Resilience Research Centre .  And, for one of the best tools out there check out the Centre’s Child and Youth Resilience Measure & Adult Resilience Measure.