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Resilience: Overcoming Adversity


“Sissy” has a memory. She was just little, perhaps 5-years-old. She and her brother played with building blocks Daddy had made for them. Angry voices in the kitchen captured her attention. She went to see why Mommy and Daddy were so angry. Mommy was washing dishes and crying. Daddy said something. She didn’t hear what he said. A soap-suds covered hand raised a plate, Daddy side-stepped it and it crashed against the wall, shattering. A shard of the china plate struck Sissy’s leg, cutting her.

She still remembers the moment clearly so many years later. She wasn’t angry with anyone. The wound didn’t require stitches. Doc butter-flied it and sent her home. Her mother never threw anything again, no matter how far father pushed her.

Sissy also recalled her father ranting at her mother. There were episodes she only occasionally thought of when she remembered the ups and downs of her parents’ marriage as she tried to resolve issues in her own. She took the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) test at, and scored 2.

In 1995, 17,000 people participated in a study that compared childhood experiences with adult health records. Two-thirds of those people had experienced at least one ACE, a chronic, unpredictable, stress-inducing event.

Science is taking another look at how the brain is affected by stress and resiliency in childhood and that follows humans through their lives.

In her blog online at Psychology Today, Donna Jackson Nakazawa lists seven ways that child adversity can change a child’s brain. When stressful events take place over and over again, the person may lose their ability to cope with stressors in the future. They overreact to everyday stresses. Nakazawa notes that auto-immune conditions, heart disease, cancer and depression often result.

The part of the brain that controls emotion, memory and stress “shrinks” under constant stress: more over-reaction to stress.

Nakazawa writes, “…kids that come into adolescence with a history of adversity and lack of presence of a consistent, loving adult to help them through may become more likely to develop mood disorders or have poor executive functioning and decision making skills.”

The microglia, a newer discovery in the brain, is a part of the immune system and “cleans house.” When stress goes high, the “housekeeper” goes to work to reset the brain for life.

We know how important good, supportive relationships are. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress. It is resilience that helps us to face and overcome our trials and be strengthened during those dark days of our lives.

The four characteristics of resilience in children, advises the National Association for the Education of Young Children, are:

  • Heightened sensory awareness.
  • High positive expectations.
  • Clear and developing strengths and accomplishments.
  • Developing sense of humor.

“Children need high quality care, opportunities for developing and maintaining relationships, adequate nutrition, and support from families, educators and communities,” advises NAEYC.


Reassure your child that he or she is loved. Listen to your child as she speaks about her feelings. Let the child explore her environment, but keep her safe from harm. Encourage a healthy level of independence for the child’s age and maturity. Be a good role model, confident and optimistic. When the child is old enough to understand, explain the rules he is expected to live by. Teach empathy and caring through your actions so your child will understand.

Children live what they learn. They learn from the adults in their lives how to negotiate life. Will you give your children good life coping skills?

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues. For more information, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468 or e-mail,

The next National Take Back Drug Program will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 22. You can drop off the medications (pills or capsules) either at East Liverpool City Hospital’s main entrance or at the Salem Medical Building across the street from Salem Regional Medical Center. No liquids, aerosols or creams will be accepted.

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