Neurobiology now has the tools to study epigenetic change and intergenerational transmission of trauma effects.

A large literature on resources and protective factors suggests that one of the most important factors for children to help them deal with adversity is a capable care giver. Self-efficacy is also important because it is attached to the motivational system that drives people to try to cope in the midst of adverse situations. Children also depend on the resilience of families and of many other systems.

Resilience as a Dynamic Systems Concept

The capacity for resilience is distributed across multiple, adaptive, interacting systems, Masten stressed. A child’s resilience is not just embedded in the child, but also in the relationships, culture, and all the other communities and systems the child may interact with (Sapienza and Masten, 2011). The capacity for resilience in a disaster is interdependent with resilience in other kinds of systems (e.g., economic resilience, global resilience in terms of climate change).

Masten emphasized that many systems influence the capacity that children have for resilience. Systems in the organism (i.e., the child) include, for example, the immune system, stress response systems, central nervous system, cognitive skills, executive functions, and motivation. Much of child capacity is also embedded in relationships. Secure attachment relationships with young children are with caregivers, but as we get older, attachment expands to friends, mentors, romantic partners, and to spiritual relationships (e.g., with a pastor or religious leader). Other systems in communities and societies that are important for children include schools as well as the emergency response systems, health care systems, and cultural practices.

To foster resilience in children, general guidelines from the literature are to plan developmentally, target and time interventions strategically, consider multiple levels of action, define and prepare first responders, and promote resilience of key systems for children. With regard to planning, Masten said to prepare for children medically, psychologically, and pragmatically. Recognize that teachers and child care workers are first responders, and train them on the typical responses and needs of children by age and development. Masten also noted that many first responders are parents, and they are likely to perform better if their own children are safe and protected.

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