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The emergence of the global Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and the current impact of the highly contagious delta-strain of this virus, is causing immense disruption, stress and upheaval to almost every aspect of our society and community. It is becoming increasingly clear that the impacts of a prolonged ‘lockdown’ in a community are serious, wide-ranging, and potentially long-lasting(1).

By Dr Philip Tam

It is also recognised that there can be ‘delayed’ impacts on a young person’s health and wellbeing after an upheaval or trauma – in other words, one may not observe the impact immediately, but observe it many months or even years after the event. A child-focussed and evidence-based look at resilience, and how to enhance it, has never been more timely.

Resilience can usefully be defined as “The ability of an individual, group, or organisation to cope with and positively adapt and evolve in the face of major stresses, changes or upheavals in their environment”. A resilient person or group will thus be able to draw on a range of resources, both internal and external, to allow them to learn from that adversity, and to thrive into the future. They will be able to cope better in the event of a future stressful event. Common examples faced by young people include illness or disease, neglect or abuse, the loss of a parent, or being exposed to violence, crime or warfare.

In this article, we will look in more detail about the concept of resilience, how it may be enhanced, and how the pandemic-afflicted world that young people are living in may be impacting them – the ultimate test of resilience. We will look at the research on how important resilience is to young people’s wellbeing, and on how communities can build resilience in children and in our communities, to better cope with the stresses we face, both now and into the future.

A child-focussed and evidence-based look at resilience, and how to enhance it, has never been more timely.

What is resilience, and how can we enhance it?

Resilience is now well-recognised as a significant factor in young people’s wellbeing and for their mental health (2). There is a wealth of research, going back up to 30 years, that clearly demonstrate that more resilient children (defined here as people younger than 18) have better mental health outcomes, cope better with adversity, and have better long-term outcomes in domains such as employment attainment, physical health, and stable personal relationships (3). Levels of resilience in children vary widely across different community groups, and can even vary widely within one family: for example, one child may have a high level of resilience and cope well in adversity, whilst their sibling has a low resilience and responds poorly to adversity. Finding the reasons for these differences is an active and very important area of research.

There are many factors that contribute to a high level of resilience. These include genetic factors, temperament and personality, family & environmental factors, educational factors, and specific interventions that aim to ‘boost’ resilience. In other words, the whole range of developmental experiences for a young person can contribute to their resilience! Equally importantly, resilience is a skill that can be taught and enhanced – often significantly so (4), (5). There is now a wide range of evidence-based and structured resilience-enhancing programmes available, and these can be taught in the school setting, in a parenting group, or even at home. There are also many ‘resilience scales’ that can be used to measure this, and to see if resilience improves over time, as a result of a programme or intervention. The concept of resilience is of course a broad and wide-ranging one, encompassing many differing skills, resources and personality characteristics. Furthermore, different challenges or upheavals will require different aspects of resilience, to effectively address that challenge.

Some key features of resilience are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-control
  • Good communication and empathy
  • Mindfulness
  • Positive relationships
  • Sense of purpose
  • Confidence
  • Competence and problem-solving skills
  • Optimism

Schools and school staff are important in supporting and improving the mental wellbeing of children

How is Covid-19 impacting on young people?

As noted above, in Australia we are currently experiencing great upheavals across society, not least in the educational setting, with schools moving to an online format and teaching being done remotely. What are the effects on children of the pandemic, and of growing up in a ‘post-Covid’ world? These could be divided into direct effects, and indirect effects.

Direct effects include:

  • a family member developing the illness
  • being unable to attend school due to a local outbreak
  • having to go into quarantine and being unable to engage in usual activities eg. sports
  • being unable to see or visit extended-family members eg. interstate or overseas
  • having fear and anxiety around developing the illness
  • the negative impacts of prolonged periods of online/remote learning

Indirect effects include:

  • the strain on a young person’s family if a caregiver loses their job
  • mental health issues in a parent or caregiver due to the strain of the pandemic
  • financial strain on the family
  • being aware of illness and death on the global scale due to the pandemic eg. by seeing this on TV

There are currently a range of research studies being done to investigate the effects of the pandemic on children. Such effects include impacts on physical health, mental health and wellbeing, education and learning, and social domains. Some studies have already been completed and have been published, some will be ‘longer-term’ studies that follow the subjects over a year or more. One study concluded that there has already been a significant impact on the levels of physical activity in children in Washington, DC (6). A further concern is that children who are already vulnerable, such as those with physical illness, of lower socio-economic groups, or from marginalised communities, will be more significantly impacted by the pandemic than those who are currently well-supported and healthy (7). These vulnerable groups of children will thus require a higher degree of support and assistance, both immediately and into the future, by governments and by health professionals. School staff, including school counsellors, have a crucial role to play in recognising when vulnerable groups are in danger of falling further behind, both in their education pathway and in their mental wellbeing. School staff are in a very strong position to look out for ‘early warning signs’ of stress, dysfunction or mental illness in children, and must be supported when they arrange for in-need students to receive professional help, eg. from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

There are currently a range of research studies being done to investigate the effects of the pandemic on children.

The recent major Australian Productivity Commission’s Report into mental health(7), specifically highlighted the importance of schools and school staff in supporting and improving the mental wellbeing of children. Whilst this Report would have been largely researched and written prior to the global pandemic, its message is made even more pressing and relevant in the current times.

As already noted, there are many research studies currently underway studying the effects of the pandemic on young people. These effects will be broad-ranging and of course will vary according to how significantly the population being studied has been affected by the pandemic – for example, if schools were fully shut-down in the study period, or if sports clubs were closed during restrictions.

Some areas of interest likely to be researched are:

  • Physical health and fitness
  • Weight and rates of obesity
  • Sleep patterns
  • Rates of screen and computer usage
  • Behavioural problems eg anger
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Educational and learning outcomes
  • Social connectedness
  • Engagement in hobbies and activities
Some key tips to improve mental wellbeing in the pandemic
  • maintain a structure to the day: when many hours of the day are spent indoors and online, it is easy to lose track of time and forget to stick to a healthy daily sleep and wake cycle. It is, for example, tempting to sleep-in when possible, or to go to bed very late when one does not need to get up early in the morning, eg. to get to school. It is thus very important to maintain an optimal and consistent structure through the day, by getting up and ready at a sensible time, sticking to regular meal-times, and preparing for bed at a sensible time.
  • ensure a healthy, regular sleep pattern: how well one sleeps is very important in setting-up for a successful, productive following day. How to stick to a healthy sleep routine is explored in detail in a separate article available on this portal.
  • maintain regular exercise and healthy eating habits: Keeping fit, doing regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy body-weight has never been more important than in this time of extended ‘lock-down’. Though gyms, sports clubs etc. are currently closed, it is still relatively easy to do regular exercise and fitness routines. Getting outside for exercise is, of course, one of the permitted reasons to leave the home, during the restrictions, and is especially for young people who may be spending many hours in the day looking at a computer screen for their schoolwork. Whilst walking outdoors is preferable to no exercise at all, for this to have a significant benefit on both physical and mental well-being, the exercise has to be intense and tiring – it has to leave you breathless and with an increased heart-rate.
  • keep connected, in positive ways: here, the internet can play an important role, by connecting us with friends, with school teachers during online learning, and with other community members. Having a strong and active social network is one of the key factors in resilience and in mental wellbeing.
  • seek help and support if needed: school counsellors will be able to assist, if one’s mental health is suffering and/or stress levels are high. They will also be able to make an initial assessment as to the severity of the distress in the student, and be able to assist if referral to an external health practitioner, such as a clinical psychologist, is required. Your GP will also be able to assist you with referrals and support pathways.

Families can also teach their children resilience skills in the home setting.

Conclusions – how we support our children into the future

The pandemic, and the longer-term effects of growing up in a Covid-impacted world, are highly likely to be significant and wide-ranging. The resilience of many of our valued institutions are being tested and placed under strain, such as the hospital and healthcare systems, our schools and teachers, the tourism industry, and families and communities.

This article has outlined how children are likely to be significantly impacted, quite possibly in ways we are not yet sure about. This is why accurate, relevant and well-funded research is going to be vital when we plan how to roll-out support and resilience-building programmes for children – a similar perspective to the development and roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine itself.

We know that resilience can be enhanced and improved, through structured programmes. These programmes take many forms, but can be delivered at school, in the community, or within the family unit. Such programmes, especially when delivered to a whole population rather than delivered to a small, targeted section only, are likely to be extremely costly. However, the costs of not acting in the longer term, such as through the impacts of physical or mental illness, loss of employment, substance misuse, or early death, far outweigh those initial expenditures - making such programmes highly cost-effective when looked at from a lifetime perspective (7).

Families can also teach their children resilience skills in the home setting. Many such programmes and teaching strategies can be easily found on authoritative websites such as resourcingparents.new.gov, beyondblue.org.au, and healthychildren.org. There are also numerous books by experts in the field, on how to build and foster resilience in children.

A healthy amount of resilience is important in all age groups, but especially so in children. Building and maintaining resilience will not only allow them to flourish and thrive in spite of the challenges of this time, but to equip them to deal effectively with future challenges and upheavals.


(1) Statement on the second meeting of the International Emergency Committee regarding the outbreak of novel cornovirus (2019-nCoV). WHO: 30 Jan, 2020.

(2) Mastens A., Barnes A. Resilience in Children: developmental perspectives. PMC Children 2018. 5(7): 98-110

(3) Oh D.L., et al. Systematic review of pediatric health outcomes associated with childhood adversity. BMC Pediatrics. 2018. 18:83

(4) Beyond Blue Ltd. Building resilience in children aged 0-12. A practice guide (2017)

(5) Alvord M. K., Grados J. J. Enhancing resilience in children: A proactive approach. Professional Psychology: research and practice. 2005. 36(3):238-245

(6) Dunton G. et al. Early effects of the Covod-19 pandemic on physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children living in the U.S. BMC Public Health. 2020. 20:1351

(7) Jones B., et al. COVID-19 pandemic: The impact on vulnerable children and young people in Australia. J of Paediatrics and Child Health. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpc.15169

(8) Inquiry Report: Mental Health. Australian Government: Productivity Commission. No. 95, June 2020