Resilience Building and PTSD Prevention

June is National Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, a time for us to turn our focus to PTSD and view it through the lens of prevention. PTSD affects all kinds of people with a wide variety of experiences. Combat, accidents, abuse, and divorce are just a few of the potentially traumatic events (PTEs) that can cause PTSD. If you'd like more information on how PTSD develops in children and adults, or what the symptoms are, visit the American Psychological Association's website. For more information on the prevention of PTSD, read on.

As healthcare evolves, we are taking a more mindful approach to the prevention of PTSD. There are a variety of techniques being used in education and military settings, including medication, group therapy, and intervention into traumatic situations. In all the research done on PTSD prevention, one thing in particular stands out—people with good social support groups fare much better than those without.

Because parents are the frontline of prevention, equipping them to nurture their children is a pivotal piece in preventing childhood PTSD. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) child abuse and neglect prevention strategies recommends supporting education, ensuring that families have access to resources to provide for their basic needs, and intervening to lessen harm when necessary. Building strong families and preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) naturally diminishes the likelihood of PTSD in children. Beyond preventing ACEs, helping children build resilience will equip them to face hardship and succeed in spite of it. This learned resilience acts as a protective factor against PTSD.

Developmental psychologist Emmy Werner conducted a thirty-two-year-long project researching resilience in children. Throughout this long process, she discovered that resilient children believed they were “the orchestrators of their own fates.” They depended more on their internal control and influence to determine their future than they did on their circumstances. She also described resilience as “a constant calculation,” like a muscle that can be exercised and strengthened. Giving children the tools to do just that will help them when they encounter the challenges that are sure to come.

If you're looking for practical ways to help the children in your life build resilience, the APA's list is a good place to start:

  • Make connections
  • Help your child by having him or her help others
  • Maintain a daily routine
  • Take a break
  • Teach your child self-care
  • Move toward your goals
  • Nurture a positive self-view
  • Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery
  • Accept that change is part of living

Teaching children these skills is a team effort. Parents, teachers, caregivers, and role models must join together to teach resilience and demonstrate it in their personal lives. Showing young people what it looks like to tackle life with resilience is one of the best ways we can empower them to meet obstacles with the optimism and determination necessary to overcome.

Kaela Moore