Children Youth

Nine Things All Children Need to Be Resilient

Dr Ungar 2016 Photo“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf”  –John Kabat-Zinn

“It’s easier to learn to surf if you have a surfboard, a coach, and a lifeguard” –Michael Ungar, PhD

Hastings-Prince Edward was privileged to welcome Dr. Michael Ungar – Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience, Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University, and family therapist – to Belleville on May 17th where he spoke dynamically and engagingly to a gathering of 190 professionals, students and community members on the topic of resilience.

While many people assume that children are naturally resilient, Dr. Ungar stressed that environment influences a child’s ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity. His research supports nine things that all children need to be resilient:

  1. 1.  Structure
  2. 2.  Consequences
  3. 3.  Parent-child connections
  4. 4.  Lots and lots of strong relationships
  5. 5.  A powerful identity
  6. 6.  A sense of control
  7. 7.  A sense of belonging, spirituality, and life purpose
  8. 8.  Rights and responsibilities
  9. 9.  Safety and support.

Two of his key points include:  “The greater a child’s exposure to adversity, the more resources matter” and “It is always better to offer children substitute ways of getting the 9 things they need . . . than trying to suppress their troubling behaviours.”

In his Theory of Change, Dr. Ungar states, “People living in challenging contexts change when their natural supports, programs and interventions, and social policies help them:

  • ♦ Navigate effectively,
  • ♦ Negotiate effectively,
  • ♦ Find resources that are culturally and contextually meaningful.

This theory supports the No Wrong Door and Warm Hand-Off approaches to information and referral which are being practiced by CYSN member organizations, and is consistent with one of our goals to “support services that are sensitive to the social, linguistic and cultural diversity of families and FNMI communities”.

For access to Dr. Ungar’s Child and Youth Resilience Measure-28, please CLICK HERE.

To learn more about Dr. Ungar, his presentations and his books, please visit

Wendy Anderson, Coordinator, Children and Youth Services Network

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