Three Ways to Build Resilience Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last updated: 05-27-2020

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Three Ways to Build Resilience Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

The worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a source of unexpected stress and adversity for many people.

Resilience can help us get through and overcome hardship. But resilience is not something we’re born with—it’s built over time as the experiences we have interact with our unique, individual genetic makeup. That’s why we all respond to stress and adversity—like that from the COVID-19 pandemic—differently.

Think of resilience as a seesaw or balance scale, where negative experiences tip the scale toward bad outcomes, and positive experiences tip it toward good outcomes. For some people during the COVID-19 outbreak, the resilience scale may look like this:

The point where the scale balances is called the “fulcrum,” and if it is more to one side or the other, it can make it harder or easier to tip the resilience scale to the positive. Everyone’s fulcrum is in a different spot—which explains why each person is different in how easily we can counterbalance hardships in life. The good news is that the fulcrum can be moved by developing a toolkit of skills you can use to adapt and find solutions. (More on that later.)

So, what can we do to build up and strengthen resilience right now during the COVID-19 outbreak? And how can we build resilience to plan ahead for future times of crisis?

The science of child development points to three ways we can affect experiences and the balance of the resilience scale:

We can lighten the load on the negative side of the resilience scale by reducing sources of stress for families and program staff. Many organizations are already doing this and can draw on their experience to prepare for possible future periods of physical distancing and shutdown. Reducing sources of stress may include:

We can add to the positive side of the resilience scale by piling on positive experiences—especially through responsive relationships. The one thing that most children who develop resilience have in common is a stable, committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. Adults need those supportive relationships, too!

We can make it easier for a scale to tip toward positive outcomes by strengthening core life skills. All of us need executive function and self-regulation skills to manage daily life, but stress makes it more difficult to use the skills we have. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we need these core life skills for things like planning less frequent trips to the grocery store or market, filling out forms for relief funds or loans, navigating support programs, and for managing work, home, and caring for children. Adults can strengthen these skills with small but helpful supports, like:

During a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, families need their immediate, basic needs met before they can focus on anything else. But, when the crisis is over, longer-term programs that support adults and children in building and practicing their core life skills will again be necessary and effective.

Learn more about these three principles and resilience.

See more resources related to COVID-19.

Contact the Center for help in applying these three principles to your work.


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