How can we be more emotionally resilient?

Childhood is often characterized as relatively carefree and one of the most beautiful periods in life. However, the unpredictable situations that can lead to significant amounts of stress in children, as well as in adults, but also in traumatic situations, should be kept in mind. Traumatic reactions are expected in emotionally difficult situations and can lead to difficulties in various plans of functioning in children, young people and adults (cognitive, physical, behavioral and emotional). In the current situation, we have the opportunity to feel on our skin that the health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the recent earthquake, followed by subsequent earthquake in the City of Zagreb and the wider environment, affect our perception of the world, increased levels of anxiety and uncertainty. While not immune to the circumstances that we are all afflicted, children and young people have a special ability to successfully developing despite certain difficulties.

Children experience the world in a different way from adults, adapt to change faster and slower… Children may initially find it difficult to understand and understand why changes in everyday situations have occurred at all, and younger children (early elementary school children) in these situations may it is not uncommon to hold yourself accountable for a new situation (“magical self” opinion) (Ryan, 2019). When children do not understand the changes that have occurred, they tend to be irritable, angry and have more ‘demands’. What is important is that we do not diminish children’s feelings and allow them to feel protected.

Experts agree that the ability to predict routines and daily activities relative to people brings certainty and stability (Forsyth, 2020). The study Ong, Bergemann, Bisconti and Wallace (2006) obtained results that indicate that over time experience positive emotions can contribute significant ability recovery from stressful situations. Positive emotions and social support have, with confidence, shown to be a significant predictor of life satisfaction (Ruvalcaba-Romero, Fernández-Berrocal, Salazar-Estrada, & Gallegos-Guajardo, 2017).


Resilience – defining it and why it matters

Psychological resilience could be defined, on the basis of some of the literature reviewed, as the ability to adapt well in the face of objectively difficult life circumstances (Fletcher and Sarkar, 2013). Experts point out that everyone at some point in their lives may experience emotionally difficult situations or events in which their lives or the lives of their loved ones are at risk, and what distinguishes resilient individuals from resilient individuals is their approach to disadvantageous situations, which does not mean that resilient individuals do not experience unpleasant emotions such as sadness, pain and stress, but to affirm them, know how to manage and adapt to them. Several studies in the field of positive psychology have just addressed the identification of factors associated with resilience, and some of the more significant findings are how resilience is related to:

  • Social support (Ozbay et al., 2007)
  • Optimism (Souri and Hasanirad, 2011)
  • Self-confidence (Karatas and Cakar, 2011)

Family is one of the important foundations for building resilience in a child. Patterns of parenting behavior, social and emotional interaction are some of the factors considered significant in the development of resilience in children (Brajša – Žganec, 2007). The concept of family resilience is defined as a functional system that enables the positive adjustment of all members and the strengthening of family cohesion despite strong stressful events (Walsh, 2016). Family resilience is strengthened by maintaining close relationships between all family members, a shared approach to problem solving and supporting one another, especially in situations where one of the family members has experienced or is experiencing some stress (Olson, 2000).

In the context of family resilience, some authors emphasize that the cumulative effect of multiple different stress events or situations, such as an earthquake in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, may increase vulnerability and the risk of potential problems. However, Walsh (2016) states that resilient families can overcome the complexity of cumulative stress situations and defines how family resilience involves three areas: belief systems, organizational processes, and communication. Please see the table for details.


Key Processes in Achieving Family Resilience (Adapted from Walsh, 2016)

Family Resilience

Belief systemOrganizational processesCommunication / problem solving processes
Finding meaning in an accidentFlexibilityClarity
Positive thoughts about the futureConnectionOpen sharing of emotions
Transcendence (transcendence and spirituality)Mobilizing social and economic resourcesCollaborative problem solving


Families of greater resilience ‘keep’ their routines, rituals and family roles to the fullest extent possible, but are also ready to make certain modifications when necessary to adequately cope with new circumstances and family needs (Vogel, 2017). The importance of strengthening family resilience may extend beyond the boundaries of the family itself, as confirmed by Leitz (2007), who found that resilient families, after significant crisis events and providing mutual support, needed to help others, which further strengthened them.

What does all this mean in practice for children and their parents?

It means that in such an emotionally difficult situation it is important to talk to the children, explain to them the situation, the reasons why they are at home, why they cannot see their friends, establish a structure of the day and activities that will give them a certain sense of predictability and safety, understand their reactions and fears, to recognize if perhaps through “disobedience” they express their anxiety, anger, powerlessness …

To share common values, to express positive thoughts about the future, to seek meaning in an accident in accordance with one’s views and beliefs. Setting boundaries for children, but in this particular situation being a little flexible, this is new to you and the children. Remember to keep in touch with members of the wider family and friends – nowadays, modern technology makes it much easier. Learn how to make a video or conference call, let your kids teach you.

Most importantly, speak clearly and openly with your children, share your emotions, verbalize that your fear is too, that you are sad, worried… (however you feel). Allow them and encourage them to talk to you about their feelings, what they miss, what they find difficult, and what they might find great (don’t criticize them for saying they are brilliant because they don’t have to meet someone at school every day not very fond). Encourage their openness, organize joint activities that you will enjoy, laugh at everything…


By: Marija Crnković, psychology professor, clinical psychologist and Krešimir Prijatelj, MSc. of psychology

Illustrations: Krešimir Prijatelj, MSc. of psychology



Brajša – Žganec, A., Slunjski, E. (2007). Socioemocionalni razvoj u predškolskoj dobi: povezanost razumijevanja emocija i prosocijalnoga ponašanja. [Socio-emotional development in preschool age: the connection between understanding emotions and prosocial behavior]. Društvena istraživanja : Journal for General Social Issues. 3 (89), 477 – 496.

Fletcher, D. i Sarkar, M. (2013). Psychological resilience: A review and critique of definitions, concepts, and theory. European psychologist, 18(1), 12.

Karatas, Z. i Cakar, F. S. (2011). Self-Esteem and Hopelessness, and Resiliency: An Exploratory Study of Adolescents in Turkey. International Education Studies, 4(4), 84-91.

Kecmanovic, J. (2020). A psychologist’s science-based tips for emotional resilience during the coronavirus crisis. [Accessed March 31, 2020]

Lietz, C. A. (2007). Uncovering stories of family resilience: A mixed method study of resilient families, part 2. Families in Society, 88(1), 147-155.

Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan III, C. A., Charney, D. i Southwick, S. (2007). Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 4(5), 35.

Ruvalcaba-Romero, N. A., Fernández-Berrocal, P., Salazar-Estrada, J. G. i Gallegos-Guajardo, J. (2017). Positive emotions, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships and social support as mediators between emotional intelligence and life satisfaction. Journal of Behavior, Health & Social Issues, 9(1), 1-6.

Ryan, M. (2019). Signs of Magical Thinking in Small Children. [Accessed March 31, 2020]

Souri, H. i Hasanirad, T. (2011). Relationship between resilience, optimism and psychological well-being in students of medicine. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 30, 1541-1544.

Shonkoff, J. P. (2020). Stress, Resilience, and the Role of Science: Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic. [Accessed March 31, 2020]

Vogel, J. M. (2017). Family Resilience and Traumatic Stress: A Guide for Mental Health Providers.

Walsh, F. (2016). Family resilience: A developmental systems framework. European journal of developmental psychology, 13(3), 313-324. doi:10.1080/17405629.2016.1154035

WHO (2020). Mental health and psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. [Accessed March 31, 2020]

Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.   

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