The Ordinary Magic of Resilience

In April the Children’s Center on Family Violence sponsored a training on “Embracing and Asset-Based Approach to Supporting Children Exposed to Domestic Violence.” This training was attended by domestic violence advocates, child welfare workers, and others who respond to children exposed to family violence. There were excellent presentations by Casey Keene, an adult survivor of childhood exposure to domestic violence and a trainer for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and Jill Davies, Deputy Director of Greater Hartford Legal Aid, who has written and trained extensively on the complexities of domestic violence advocacy.

As a child abuse pediatrician working every day with children experiencing family violence and other forms of trauma, I was most struck by the resonance of Casey Keene’s comments on the “ordinary magic” of resilience. She defined resilience as the innate ability to adapt and talked about the fact that a majority of children exposed to trauma go on to live successful and well-adjusted lives. This remarkable truth is something I marvel at every day, as children referred for concerns of maltreatment sit on my examination table sharing their worries about their bodies or what might happen next.

It also shows when they are NOT talking about their trauma, but sharing the parts of themselves of which they are most proud, and demonstrating their talents. Last week I asked a 12-year-old girl who came for concerns of sexual abuse what she was really good at; she immediately jumped up and did a backbend. She told me she would have done a back walkover but there wasn’t enough space. This is what resilience looks like in my office, and happily it is the norm rather than the exception. The challenge for all of us working with these children is to do what we can to recognize, support and increase their resilience.

Casey Keene went on to discuss concrete strategies for building resilience, including:

  • reducing adversity;
  • increasing resources or access to resources; and,
  • harnessing the power of networks.

She talked about resilience as a process and encouraged us to engage with children and their caregivers on this journey. She offered examples of cutting edge work in communities around the U.S. and challenged each of us to identify a small step we can take in our own practice right away to support resilience in the children we meet. One of my favorite resources in this area was created by Futures Without Violence – Everyday Magic: 16 Ways Adults Can Support Children Exposed to Violence and Trauma. Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health is offering training to area professionals on the protective factors approach. Click here to learn more.

I have noticed in my own work that the joy and sense of mastery that children experience when they share their strengths is healing for both of us, and improves my own well-being. At the moment a child shows me her strength, I take a mental picture, and when I think of her later, that is the picture that comes to mind. My own “next step” coming out of this training is to be sure that at the moment I take that mental picture I pause to hold up a mirror and reflect that image back to the child.