Roots of Resilience

Building Resilience is Our Responsibility

Youth in our community have tremendous potential and we all benefit when this potential is realized. The Northland Coalition is excited to partner with individuals, organizations, and various areas of our community to ensure that our actions support youth resilience and mental health. When we are intentional, and work together, we can ensure that ALL kids have the opportunity to thrive.

Supporting Healthy Brain Development in the Face of Adversity

As children grow up, their brain continues to grow, building a foundation for the way they interact and engage with the world. Early childhood through adolescence is a great time for children to learn all sorts of things, including how to respond to adversity or stress. 

When stress is time-limited and the child has adequate adult support, the brain and body respond appropriately and the impact of the stress is healthy and formative. On the other hand, chronic and ongoing adversity, in the absence of stable and reliable adult support, is called toxic stress. Toxic stress floods the body with dangerous levels of hormones. When children experience more toxic stress, the likelihood of health problems, substance use, and mental health disorders are more likely to occur down the road.

The best way to support healthy brain development in the face of adversity is to either reduce the exposure of young children to toxic stress or to build the buffers of support around youth experiencing toxic stress.  We call these buffers RESILIENCE. There is tremendous power, and obligation, for all of us to ensure that youth are buffered from adversity.

Rooting Our Youth in Resilience

Resilience, or providing buffers to adversity during childhood, is extremely effective and provides hope! The Northland Coalition, through our Roots of Resilience program, has launched three different categories of action that adults can take to build resilience in youth!  When we model and teach self care, build connections, and challenge growth, we get out ahead of issues like youth substance use and build our communities’ strength.

When youth experience adversity–like the loss of a loved one, witnessing abuse, or being isolated during a pandemic, what happens next makes all the difference. We are excited to equip you with these ideas that can help reduce the impact of toxic stress on children.

Model and Teach Self-Care

Emotional regulation, nutrition, sleep, and positive coping skills are crucial for overall well-being and resilience. Youth aren’t born with these skills, so they must be intentionally fostered. In order to nurture these skills in children and youth, they need to be modeled and taught by the adults around them. Before you work to build resilience in others, it is important to make sure you are first taking care of yourself. Self-care helps us to be resilient caregivers. Modeling self-care and positive coping skills helps kids around us learn these strategies so that they can be more resilient too.

Research shows that children who get adequate sleep are better focused and behaved in school, sick less often, and manage stress more easily. Creating and maintaining a bedtime routine, helping kids go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, and limiting screen time before bed are all helpful when promoting healthy sleep. Generally, preschoolers need 10-13 hours of sleep per day, elementary students need 9-12 hours per day, and teens need 8-10 hours per day. Learn more about promoting healthy sleep.

Providing good nutrition at regular family mealtimes is important to building resilience and combating the effects of toxic stress. Not only are nutrients vital for the developing brain and body, but consistent family mealtimes also build connections and help youth feel safe and trusting of the world around them. Making meals technology-free (no phones, tablets, or TVs) will help strengthen this connection by limiting distractions. In fact, we believe in unplugged family mealtimes so much, we have our own Meaningful Meals campaign! Check it out to find resources for making your mealtimes more meaningful, and your kids more resilient.

Regular physical activity can actually help counter the effects of toxic stress by reducing levels of stress hormones in the body. It is best to incorporate exercise into your everyday routine, but it doesn’t have to be difficult exercise. Even something as simple as taking a walk after dinner or playing outside together in the afternoon can have great benefits. Helping kids brainstorm a variety of fun types of exercise, and joining them in exercise, can make physical activity more fun for the whole family. Here’s 25 fun ways to get your family moving.

Kids notice how the adults in their lives cope with stress. For example, if kids hear, “It’s been a long day; I’m going to have some wine,” they are more likely to interpret alcohol as a coping strategy. Our words and actions matter and communicating positive ways to deal with stress is vital. One way to model self-care effectively is to simply state your positive self-care or coping strategy to kids while you are doing it. For example: “I’ve had a stressful day at work. Tonight, I am going to take a bath, so I can relax my mind and body.” or “I’m eating healthy food, so I can make sure my body stays strong for anything I need it to do.” Learn more about positive coping skills and mental wellness for kids (and even yourself). Have your teen check this resource out for positive coping skills.

Mindfulness is a technique that helps focus awareness on the present moment in order to calm the body’s stress response system. Mindfulness helps to reduce brain activity in the emotional centers of the brain. It helps people to react less impulsively and intensely to stress and provides a positive coping tool in stressful situations. Here’s two activities to get you started:

Grounding Countdown with the 5-4-3-2-1 Activity

Box Breathing is an easy technique you can do anywhere to help calm your brain and reduce stress. Use the diagram and follow these instructions to practice this mindfulness skill:

Close your eyes. Breathe in while slowly counting to four.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Breathe out for a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Repeat these steps at least three times.

Build Strong Connections

The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. Most of us have opportunities to interact with youth on a regular basis, whether it be in our families, at church, through other community youth-serving organizations, or simply when running errands at the grocery store. Making these interactions positive experiences that make youth feel valued, seen and cared for can have a significant impact on their lives.

Creating a positive relationship with a child doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as listening, practicing empathy, and letting them know they are important to you. The small things we do to let children and youth know they are seen, heard, and valued can have an incredible impact in their lives. Whether you are raising children of your own, choosing to mentor a child in your community, or just interacting with kids occasionally in your daily life, know that your interactions make a difference.

The Search Institute Developmental Relationships study has figured out what makes relationships impactful for youth. The more developmental relationships our youth have, the more resilient they can be. Learn more about actions you can take to make your relationships more impactful.

Challenge Growth

Kids need challenges in order to grow, and we must be proactive about making sure we have spaces and structures that support this growth. There are multiple ways that we can actively and intentionally work to challenge the growth of both children and youth in our areas of influence and these build the foundation for resilience.

Set realistically high expectations for kids and then help and support them so they can live up to their potential. Expand all possibilities and worldview by exposing youth to new flavors, cultures, experiences and ideas.  Foster growth through failures by gently helping them learn as they experience setbacks.  This is where major learning happens.

By holding kids accountable and insisting that they take responsibility for their actions and choices, we help them grow. Boundaries also keep kids safe and allow them the freedom to risk, grow, learn, and develop within them.  Use our Parent Up resources to help you set and communicate expectations and clear rules about substance use. Help kids and teens discover their own interests and abilities. Respond to their motivations and initiatives.

Basically, a “growth mindset” means believing all the traits we have (like intelligence or talent) is something that we can develop. In contrast to the growth mindset is a “fixed mindset” that believes these traits are not able to be developed. This TED TALK does a great job explaining the transformational power of fostering growth mindsets in our youth. This slight change in perspective leads to tremendous outcomes in youth. This site also has great ideas for parents who want to be intentional about fostering a growth mindset in their children.

Adolescence is an amazing time of tremendous growth and learning.  During this time, youth are learning all about the world and what their interests and passions are, so this rapid brain development is just right for this stage of life. This is why, for example, kids and teens can pick up a second language much more easily than adults. Unfortunately, these same mechanisms of the growing brain can also be altered by things like toxic stress and substance use to damage the brain. Learn about brain science and teach it to youth. Teach kids that they have control over growing their brains and they can do things to both grow and also damage their brains.

How we praise children and youth has a profound impact on their growth.  Keep your compliments away from trait-based or talent-based compliments and praise effort, hard work, and growth instead. Here’s some examples of how we can rephrase our praise to promote growth and resilience:

The Northland Coalition’s Resilience Strategies and Programs

Handle with Care:
The Northland Handle with Care initiative improves communication between first responders and schools in Clay, Platte, and Ray Counties. First responders are trained to note when children are present at the scene of a call and then simply submit a Handle with Care alert using only the address of the child (no names are given). This alert initiates a “Handle with Care” notification to a designated person at the appropriate school district. School district personnel are trained on the impact of trauma and follow a simple protocol of notifying appropriate staff, providing additional observation, and offering extra support. No direct action is taken with the child unless warranted. For additional information, or to get involved in our KC Northland program, contact Deborah at

Roots of Resilience Action Guide:
The Roots of Resilience Action Guide is a small group study guide designed to help individuals learn, discuss, and plan next steps for building resilience in youth. Download a copy of the Action Guide here or contact us to inquire about facilitation at

Resilience Trainings/Presentations:
Every adult can help build resilience in youth and we want to help inspire and encourage adults to take action. Request a training on resilience for your already gathered audience (church, workplace, community group, staff meeting) contact Deborah at

Further Learning

There are multiple resilience-building models that inform the information above and guides our coalition work.  For further reading, check out:

Building Resilience Through Developmental Assets

The Search Institute, through decades of research, has identified 40 assets that help contribute to a child’s healthy development. Development Assets are factors that make it more likely that a child will be successful academically, socially, and behaviorally. The more of these assets that youth have, the less likely they are to engage in a variety of negative behaviors including substance use and violence. Likewise, the more of these assets that youth have, the more likely they are to show “thriving indicators,” such as succeeding in school, helping others, and overcoming adversity.*  By being aware of these factors, you can help build them in your own children and children around you. View a framework for stronger relationships with youth here: Developmental-Relationships-Framework.

* “Current Research on Developmental Assets.” Search Institute, 2019,

Building Resilience Through HOPE

HOPE- Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences is a resilience framework that values the importance of positive experiences.  HOPE works to shift the focus from one that is negative or deficit based to one that identifies, promotes and celebrates access to positive childhood experiences.

The four Building Blocks of HOPE include:
1) Relationships that are Safe and Supportive,
2) Safe, Stable and Equitable Environments to live, learn and play,
3) Social and Civic Engagement that leads to mattering and belonging, and
4) Opportunities for Emotional Growth. 

Check out the
HOPE Resource Library for additional research, fact sheets, presentations, and media.

Northland Compass

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