In Search of Resilience – Lots and lots of positive relationships

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Posted: Jul 17, 2018| Categories: Uncategorized

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In Search of Resilience

Lots and lots of positive relationships

By Celine Riendeau

Truancy Specialist, Family Support Team

Northwestern Counseling & Support Services


This is the first of a nine part series with the goal of capturing those people or organizations in our community who are working to cultivate each of the nine components of resilience and highlight a youth voice impacted by this work.


Have you ever wondered how some individuals overcome adversity, while others succumb to it?   Is there truth to the idea that some people are inherently “made of sterner stuff” or are better able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”?  What causes resilience to blossom in certain individuals while not others?  What can be done to foster resilience in youth in our community and help them overcome the odds?

Dr. Michael Ungar is among the best known researchers on the topic of resilience globally.  Resilience is the ability of individuals to positively adapt in spite of significant adversities in life.  Resilient individuals demonstrate the ability to “bounce back” and cope effectively, or “bend but not break” under extreme stress.  This does not mean that individuals in these circumstances do not become distressed, but that they have the skills to manage the situation without becoming debilitated by it.  Dr. Ungar’s work has significantly impacted the way resilience is understood, shifting the focus from internal traits to external factors that influence it such as the relationships between people and their families, school, workplaces and communities.  Through his research, Dr. Ungar has identified nine elements that all children need to be resilient:  1.) Lots and lots of relationships, 2.) Parent-child connections, 3.) Physical and psychological safety, 4.) Sense of belonging, 5.) A powerful identity, 6.) Sense of control, 7.) Structure, 8.) Consequences and 9.) Fair and just treatment.

In this series of articles, In Search of Resilience, the purpose is to capture those people or organizations in our community who are working to cultivate each of the nine components of resilience listed above, and highlight a youth voice impacted by this work.  Join us as we take a closer look at resilience and some of the steps you can take to improve the odds for youth in your family as well as the greater community!


Research indicates that social support is one of the strongest predictors of positive outcomes and resilience.  Social support fosters the personal belief that one is loved, cared for and valued by others.  In order for children to benefit from social support, they need opportunities to practice and develop their social skills so they can create and maintain positive social networks.  According to Dr. Ungar, there are many supportive relationships that our youth can develop and our role as adults is to help youth nurture these connections.

Studies also suggest that the more natural supports a child has, the better the outcome will be in developing resilience.  When contact with those natural supports happens frequently, there is an even greater impact.  Children who can identify family members, friends, neighbors or groups in the community as a part of their social circle on a regular basis consistently demonstrate high resilience. These informal relationships go far in helping children develop self-worth and the feeling of importance in their world.  Being a part of groups or organizations in the community is another great way of furthering your child’s social network and in providing them an opportunity to build relationships.

Schools are a great place for youth to build lots and lots of positive relationships with both peers and supportive adults.  Erica DeBellis, the Home-School Coordinator at St. Albans Town Educational Center (SATEC), shared about her role in helping youth build resilience through relationships. DeBellis works with children struggling with anything from behaviors at home or school to attendance to homelessness.  In her 16 years in this role, she has seen how education professionals have adapted to meet the changing needs of students. She told this reporter about three specific examples.

First is the Check-In/Check-Out program, where identified children are assigned a staff member who checks in with them in the morning and in the afternoon to see how their day progressed.  Second is the rotation of the school’s Counseling staff and Health Teacher throughout all the classrooms to educate the students about social skills and mindfulness.  This process teaches children content to increase their skills to create and maintain relationships, and provides them the opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with another staff member at the school.

The third example of schools adaptations to help foster resilience through lots and lots of positive relationships is helping students connect with other students. At SATEC, there is a partnering program through which the school’s upper grades mentor the lower grades. In addition, BFA high school students visit SATEC to mentor specific students who would benefit from the development of that older-peer relationship in a program called “Win-Win”.  On top of that, DeBellis states that the school works with agencies in the area, such as DCF, NCSS and NFI to access support for the students.  As DeBellis stated, “It is about relationships and really building that connection.”

Another organization that understands the importance of lots and lots of positive relationships as a means to build resilience is Watershed Mentoring. This organization provides young people with the opportunity to build positive, long-term relationships with an adult mentor.  Executive Director Beth Crane explains that Watershed matches volunteer mentors from the community with mentees and offers support to help the mentor-mentee bond last through the child’s high school graduation.  Crane shares that “a stated goal is to help children feel more connected to their community, to feel like they matter to somebody beyond their families.”  Crane spoke of one mentor-mentee pair where the mentee comes over for dinner every week and sees a stable, loving relationship between the mentor and the mentor’s husband.  The mentee regularly gets to visit the mentor’s grandmother and experience being part of an extended family.  Additionally, the pair also travels to special events to expand the mentee’s vision of the world.

Watershed Mentoring affords opportunities for the mentees to meet other people and visit other places that the mentee wouldn’t otherwise have access to.  Even when the time is spent in their own community, the experience allows the mentee to see things from a different perspective.  According to Crane, this can be especially important for mentees living in rural, isolated areas. Watershed also collaborates with the five schools on the Champlain Islands, to provide support to mentors who begin their connection with a child through the school’s mentoring program and want to continue with their assigned student even after the student moves to another school. Among community partners important to Watershed mentors, Crane lists local libraries, NCSS, RiseVT Show-up events and other local recreational opportunities, local schools, the Teen Institute and Voices against Violence.

Considering how lots and lots of positive relationships help young people, we interviewed a student from BFA St Albans for her perspective who shared how a variety of relationships have offered her both support and the ability to be in a supportive role.  She spoke highly about her high school, BFA St Albans, highlighting examples of support from teachers, guidance counselors and the assistant principal.  “The people who work at the school are very supportive and approachable because they want to help you and want to be there for you.”  The youth shared that last year was a challenging first year for her at the high school, and school staff worked hard to create supports to help her be more successful.

Outside of school, the youth travels every other weekend to spend time with a relative who has special needs.  She reports that she does it to provide this individual with a friend figure and states “I just love doing it.”  The youth has taken this passion for helping others and has become involved as a volunteer with the local Special Olympics team.   The youth has also received support through individual and group programming at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services.  She has had a variety of supports through the organization, and states that NCSS “helps me find more ways to cope with things that I go through.”

When asked to provide her insights on the importance of relationships to her peers, the youth stated “Mostly, if you talk to your parents or to your counselor, the adults can get involved and help you set up what you need.  Because it is about your well-being.  Different relationships give you time outside of your house and it is time to have somebody and do something with.  A lot of it is fun but some stuff you have to work at.  It gives you new ways to do different things or find things you like that you didn’t know you like.”

As an organization, Northwestern Counseling & Support Services strives to help young people build resilience through the programs they offer. Family Assessment Specialists work to connect youth with services appropriate for their needs, helping them build connections with caring adults. The Community Support team helps young people build social engagement skills and how to form and maintain appropriate friendships with peers. The Youth in Transition program offers youth an opportunity to connect with each other to develop leadership skills and address issues that are important to them. The Seven Challenges group helps youth find safe and positive ways to come together. The Parent-Child Center Playgroup offers parents of young children an opportunity to connect with each other, build relationships and share parenting strategies. NCSS also offers camps, groups and events specifically designed to support young people’s development of lots and lots of positive relationships.

Stay tuned to this series to read about the next element of resilience: Parent-Child Connections.



Caregivers Can:


  • Celebrate special occasions together
  • Explore with a child a problem they’re having and help them think of possible solutions
  • Catch a child doing something good and let them and others know what you saw
  • Encourage a child to make friends with people who are different from her or him
  • Help your child build an understanding of what healthy relationships look like
  • Encourage your child to develop stronger relationships with trusted people outside of home and school.
  • Sign your child up for social groups or organizations or summer camp(s)

    Two little kids going to school together

    Two little kids going to school together




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