Module 4: Resilience and Thriving

Module Purpose

The purpose of this module is to:

  • Explore the concept of resilience.
  • Understand what children/youth need that will contribute to their resilience.
  • Understand how we can meaningfully respond to, engage with, and support children/youth who are exposed or have been exposed to intimate partner violence.


In this module, we will address how our beliefs about child, youth, and family resilience influence our practice and affect how we support the lives of others.

Strengths-based framework

A strengths-based framework supported by resilience research helps us to view the many strengths children, youth, families, and communities have as resources for addressing the challenges that people face. This framework does not ignore the risks that people face in their lives. It is critical that we continue to invest in building effective early intervention and prevention responses to intimate partner violence. Within this framework, we can first work to create safety and then support people as they make their way to health through marshaling strengths, relationships, and resources (1).

Some literature refers to resilience as a trait. We will be referring to resilience as a dynamic process that supports positive adaptation in the context of significant adversity (2). Ann Masten refers to resilience as “ordinary magic”, claiming we all have the capacity for resilience.

Enhancing protective factors

A helpful theory put forth by Bonnie Benard recognizes that all individuals — children, youth, and adults — have basic human needs like safety, love, belonging, meaning, and accomplishment. In the context of children and youth who are exposed to domestic violence, “safety” is paramount (3).

Three protective factors within an environment in a child’s life – including home, school, community, or peer group — play a role in whether the needs of children and youth are met. The three protective factors are:

  • providing caring relationships,
  • maintaining high expectations and support, and
  • providing meaningful opportunities for participation and contribution.

When these protective factors are present in any one of the above environments it provides the climate that nurtures the resilience of a child or youth exposed to domestic violence. In this context, these protective factors provide the developmental supports and opportunities that mitigate and buffer the negative effect that trauma, adversity, and/or stress may have on an individual and contributes to the healthy and successful development.

Resilience in Action

From this viewpoint, resilience is not dependent on the characteristics of the individual, but is supported by the important relationships in the lives of children and youth. This includes family members and the relationship a child has with his or her primary caretaker.

What factors contribute to our experiences of resilience?

  • Enhancing safety
  • Developing strong caring relationships
  • Fostering a sense of purpose and morality
  • Increasing consistency
  • Creating a nurturing environment
  • Building a support network
  • Nurturing a positive self-regard


    1. Bodiford, K (2012). Choppin’ it Up – Youth Led Dialogues for Positive Change.
    2. Luthar, S. S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000a). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future research. Child Development, 71, 543-562. 
    3. Benard, B. (2004). Resiliency: What we have learned. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. 

    Our Beliefs Matter

    Fostering resilience begins by believing that all individuals have the capacity for resilience (1). Thus, discussions about creating a more responsive system to childhood exposure to domestic violence include discussions both about best practices as reflected in strategies, programs and services, and our beliefs as a foundation for creating climates conducive to positive individual and family outcomes.

    Shifting our view

    When we view young people and their behaviors as “the problem”, we neglect to see them in the context of their lived experiences and unique paths to creating powerful identities, meaning, and well-being (2). In 2011, Families Thrive, the Antioch Unified School District, and the Youth Intervention Network, collaborated to invite a group of twenty high school youth in Antioch, CA to participate in a powerful approach called Choppin’ it Up. This approach to working with youth extends beyond solving problems and instead focuses on weaving new narratives and co-constructing alternatives by increasing our understanding of each other, generating new ways of being in relationship, and imaging positive possibilities.

    Creating new narratives

    In their work together, the young people shared how dominant narratives about youth often influence the beliefs people hold about them, the stories that are told about them, and how often the stories are told. Youth looked at how these stories impact the way adults are in relationships with youth and the possibilities and alternatives that are constructed. By subscribing to and participating in problematic dominant narratives, adults often miss seeing and hearing the multitude of strengths, dreams, and hopes youth have through which together we can imagine positive possibilities and build better worlds together. We may forget that despite the many challenges that children and youth may face in their lives, many not only survive but also thrive and flourish. 

    The story of transformation is centered on how adults and society view youth who are labeled at-risk or troubled, how youth view themselves, and in altering the relation, including the language we use and stories we tell, between youth and adults in order to create positive change in our communities. The following video provides a summary of our work at Choppin’ it Up. 


    1. Truebridge, S. (2010). Tell me a story: Influencing educators’ beliefs about student resilience in an effort to enhance student success.
    2. Bodiford, K (2012). Choppin' it Up: Youth-led dialogues for positive change. 

    Lived Experience: Mike Johnson


    Read Mike's Story

    We’re supposed to go see my dad next week. We’re supposed to have some kind of weekend visit at his apartment, and we’re supposed to sleep over. The whole thing is so whack. He told Kimmy on the phone that we’ll have to share a room for now, like little kids. I mean, he’s a grown-up and he has a job. And we’re teenagers. We should have our own rooms. And—even more crazy—what kind of court would take a dad who tried to kill his kids and let the kids have a visit with him? I told that lame counselor that I wouldn’t see him, but she didn’t listen, and the judge said my dad could have rights to see us. That’s why I’ve got to get my grades up. I’ve gotta get into a good school, so I can be a lawyer and put some other crappy fathers into jail. Or I’ll be an investigative reporter, and find all kinds of domestic violence jerks and expose them in the New York Times.


    Resilience and the Parent-Child Relationship

    The needs of children and their primary caretaker are closely related and often connected. When the parent-child relationship is strengthened, children have a better chance at experiencing resilience and thriving. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that for children who have experienced early childhood adversity and significant stress “the prevention of long-term, adverse consequences is best achieved by the buffering protection afforded by stable, responsive relationships that help children develop a sense of safety, thereby facilitating the restoration of their stress response systems to baseline" (1).

    Nurturing relationships

    Studies show if a primary caregiver has a nurturing and responsive relationship with a child, that relationship supports brain development and helps buffer the impact during traumatic events or when experiencing high levels of “toxic” stress (2).  Social–emotional cues of acceptance, understanding, compassion, and empathy calm a child's stress response.

    The key to keeping a tolerable stress response from tipping over into the toxic stress zone is the presence of a buffering adult to adequately mitigate the impact of the stressor....The developmental neuroscience suggested that before kids could learn grit and resilience, or math and science, for that matter, they needed a basic foundation in healthy attachment, stress management, and self-regulation......Number one, (we need to) reduce the dose of adversity; number two, strengthen the ability of the caregiver to be a healthy buffer.
    — Nadine Burke Harris, MD

    Dr. Lowell from Child FIRST encourages us to look at the challenges children and their families might face that greatly influence the environment in which the child lives and a parent’s ability to nurture and support their child’s development (4). Parents often share how being in a relationship that is abusive exhausts their energy. We can look for resources and strategies a parent uses to help them parent during this time and protect their children. Pointing out these survival tactics can help a parent rebuild their faith in themselves as a parent. Even just acknowledging the parent, and what they have and their children have survived, can help them reframe their understanding of themselves and their children. When we connect parents with the resources that they need so they are more prepared to be nurturing and facilitate the growth and development of their children. Click here to learn more about Child First

    Supporting a parent’s safety, mental health, and well-being is critical to supporting a child’s experience of resilience. 

    Validating experiences

    Critical to the success of strengthening a parent-child relationship is also having a clear understanding of how intimate partner violence might affect that particular family. When working with parents, it is important to understand the basics of intimate partner violence and how a person who is abusing may have manipulated the other parent in ways that might influence how they act towards their child.

    Validating each person’s experience and feelings, and reinforcing that violence is neither the non-offending parent’s fault nor the child’s fault is important. Listening to and supporting parents and children helps them to better understand what their own goals are, both as individuals and as a family. We can do this by listening without judgment and being thoughtful in our responses.

    Rebuilding relationships

    There is much we can do to help strengthen or repair damage in a parent-child relationship. In our time with parents and children, we can create opportunities for parents and children to strengthen or rebuild their relationship by creating new memories. We can brainstorm with them to help find opportunities to have stress-free time together. If families are having a hard time finding something that they can bond over, we can provide multiple options. Different support mechanisms or activities might be preferable to each parent and child, but even the conversation about options can promote connection.

    Cultural sensitivity is key when working with families. We can work to understand people’s behavior and circumstances within the context of their customs and norms, and be aware of the filter of our own customs and norms. We will talk more about this in Module 9 – Enhancing Cultural Responsiveness.

    We need to be sure to also determine what the parent and child want, not just what an agency/worker has determined are the best solutions. When we remain focused on how parents and children define their own needs we can help build upon the parent’s strengths and resilience to effectively parent, provide for, and support their children.

    When helping children strengthen or rebuild their relationship with their parent, we can share with children positive things about their parent that communicate that their parent is worthy of respect. This helps reinforce alternatives to violence they have seen or negative messages they may have heard. When we do this, it is helpful to be specific—tell children the good things their parent does and have them talk about those good things to you. These messages are also important for children to hear about themselves. Children may feel a lack of status or importance in their families and also need to hear good things about themselves.


    1. Andrew S. Garner, Jack P. Shonkoff, Benjamin S. Siegel, Mary I. Dobbins, Marian F. Earls, Laura McGuinn, John Pascoe and David L. Wood (2011) Early Childhood Adversity, Toxic Stress, and the Role of the Pediatrician: Translating Developmental Science Into Lifelong Health Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Committee on Early
      Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care, and Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 
    2. Ludy-Dobson & Perry (2010) The Role of Healthy Relational Interactions in Buffering the Impact of Childhood Trauma. Eliana Gil (Editor) Working with Children to Heal Interpersonal Trauma: The Power of Play. The Guilford Press. 
    3. Burke Harris, Nadine, M.D. (2018) The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity. Houghton Harcourt.
    4. Darcy Lowell, MD. Founder, Child FIRST

    Lived Experience: Nelson Choi


    Read Nelson's Story

    When I go to school my teacher is a good teacher, but I still don’t like it when my mommy goes away. But the teacher and I learned something—if she gives me a great big hug as soon as I get to school, and then she sits with me with a story, it makes it ok when my mommy leaves. My mommy gives me a hug, and then the teacher gives me a hug, and then we sit and read the story. Sometimes the other kids come and listen too, but I like that it is my story. My story, and I get to choose it every day. That makes it better. Sometimes when my mommy comes to pick me up I get to show her the story. I like that. And sometimes the teacher and my mommy talk about me after school, and they are both smiling.


    Creating Responsive Environments

    When we are able to consistently provide protective factors in any environment, (home, school, community, or peer group) we promote positive child and youth development. Creating responsive programs and partnerships for children and youth exposed to domestic violence helps to support important protective factors that promote resilience:

    • Making intentional linkages to programs that support children/youth
    • Fostering a strong working relationship within our communities and systems
    • Developing policies and procedures that are grounded in the unique needs of children and youth who uses services
    • Providing clear social messages about violence and that children and youth are not responsible for the violence within their homes
    • Establishing predictability and security in order to support growing competence
    • Ensuring that safety for parents who are abused and their children is centralized in the work of the organization/agency
    • Fully understanding the dynamics of abusing and developing a coordinated community response to enhance resilience
    • Ensuring that accountability for stopping the behavior rests with the person abusing
    • Creating interventions to strengthen the primary parent-child relationship and repair possible harm caused by the violence and control of the person who is abusing

    Lived Experience: Kimmy Johnson


    Read Kimmy's Story

    My boyfriend is actually a good friend of my brother’s. His name is Devon King, but everyone just calls him “King” because he’s so popular. He’s good at sports, and he drives a nice car, and he’s on the honor roll. We started dating when he and Mike wanted to go doubles to the junior prom in January. He and my friend Cheri are the two friends that make everything ok through all this stuff with my mom and dad. I can tell Devon and Cheri everything about what’s going on with my dad and mom, and they listen.

    But you know, the person I really like to talk to is Mrs. Hardiway, my math coach. Sometimes after school I stop by and just talk to her, or after math team practice she’ll buy me a soda and we’ll walk to my locker together. I was worried at first, but then I told her everything. And the cool thing is that Mrs. Hardiway has been giving me some ideas about how to talk to my mom. Like, the other day, she gave me a recipe for her grandmother’s peanut butter cookies, and suggested I get my mom to make them with me. And you know what? We made them and it was fun, my mom actually smiled, and asked me about Devon. It was great.


    Critical Thinking

    This section is intended to allow us to integrate the training content into the lived experiences of families. Each of these critical thinking questions addresses one or more of the people in the Carlson, Choi or Johnson families, and examines an aspect of their lives.

    Take time to think about each of these questions, and think about responses from multiple stakeholders’ points of view. It may be helpful to go back and review sections of the curriculum, re-read the experiences of each family member, and engage in dialogue with community partners and co-workers.

    • How might Mike’s behavior give us clues to his resilience and path to well-being? What do you think is meaningful to him?

    • How is Kimmy experiencing resilience? What protective factors are supporting her resilience?