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Building Resilience in Youth


Building resilience in youth means you are helping young people get through tough obstacles in their life, sometimes even chronic situations. It does not mean it will be easy for young people or that there won’t be emotional scars as a result.

Resilience is generally considered an ability to effectively face toxic stress, trauma, and/or abuse. These stressors come from their living environment, emotional or physical health situations, interpersonal relationships, and the like.

Stressors like these are difficult for even the most well-adjusted adult, but they are even more difficult for young people. They often lack the developmental assets to positively cope with severe stressors. That is where you come in as a youth worker - to help our young people develop resiliency.

Your role is to not make it easy or treat it like it’s no big deal for them. You are there to help them understand how to build their resilience to manage their stressors and become a stronger person in the long run.

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    Building resilience in young people

    • Trusting relationships: Help them to learn to trust and rely on others that are committed to supporting them. You can and should be that person for them. Be congruent with your language and actions and allow them time and space to understand they can count on you.
    • Good health: Encourage them to take care of themselves physically the best they can. Let them know that ample sleep and healthy foods will keep them strong and better able to endure tough stressors.
    • Proactive thinking and behaviors: Help them recognize unhealthy environments and social situations that could lead to harmful outcomes. Give them ideas and tools to keep them safe, and practice strategies with them so they know how to act.
    • Prosocial activities: Help them find and join clubs or groups that they can rely on for emotional support and safety. Encourage them to help others as a way to feel good about themselves to counter their own personal stressors.
    • Forward thinking: Help them see a way out of the stressors or how resilience can make them stronger. Set goals with them so they have positive things to be working toward and focusing on.
    • Prepare for change: Ensure they are prepared and know that a situation may become worse before it gets better. Teach them that change is inevitable and with good coping strategies, time and actions will improve their situations.

    When resilience is not enough

    Generally speaking, much of youth work is building resilience. But when things are dangerous or there is imminent risk, first and foremost you must protect the young person.

    If a young person is in a hostile or harmful environment, take action quickly! You are a mandated reporter as a youth worker. If you’re not sure what that means, YIPA has a great training called, How to Navigate Mandated Reporting. It’s free to YIPA members.

    If there is no imminent threat and you are unsure how to intervene, consult with a trusted experienced co-worker, or follow the protocol your organization has in place. Done right, building resilience in youth work is a powerful thing that can lead to positive outcomes for young people.

    About the author

    Paul Meunier is the executive director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Paul a question or share your feedback about this blog, email

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