Extension Specialist, Family Life Education
Cape Cod Cooperative Extension
University of Massachusetts
Why do a small number of children thrive under the same conditions
destroy other youngsters who are forced to endure them? Research
information pinpoints protective factors that help some children
The Kauai Longitudinal Study (KLS), collecting data for more than
years, followed the development of 698 youngsters from birth to
concentrating on subjects when they were 1, 2, 10, 18 and between
30 and 32
Two-thirds of the multi-racial sample of children born on the
of Kauai in 1955 were delivered without complications and grew
One-third of the children had problems around the time of birth
raised in households struggling with poverty, marital discord
mental health problems or alcoholism, and headed by poorly-educated
By age 10, three out of four of these children in troubled environments
developed serious learning and/or behavioral problems. Before
age 18, many
had records of delinquency or had been pregnant.
One out of four of these unfortunate children – 30 boys and 42
girls – came
through unscathed. They have grown into “competent, confident
young adults,” reports Emmy E. Werner in Zero to Three.
The researchers found that these resilient youngsters shared certain
personal characteristics from the beginning. They possessed temperaments
that worked in their favor and personalities that attracted favorable
attention from at least one adult who responded to them with affection
interest – especially during the first year of life.
The KLS study confirmed that a close childhood bond with at least
caretaker seemed to act as a life preserver which kept the child
a turbulent environment.
This critical person was not necessarily a parent. A grandparent,
sibling, a sitter, or a teacher could fill the role as long as
he or she
“accepted the child unconditionally, regardless of temperamental
idiosyncrasies, physical attractiveness, or intelligence.”
WHO IS THE RESILIENT CHILD?
Resilient children seem to share some appealing traits that
draw adults to them.
– They were active as infants, but also easy babies – affectionate,
fussy, and good eaters and sleepers.
– As toddlers, they combined a love of independence and autonomy
positive social skills. They were described as friendly and cheerful,
well as self-confident, determined, and aggressive.
The resilient children grew up in families where siblings were
age by at least two years and with no more than four children
– For boys, the position of eldest child was an important protective
– For girls, “the model of a mother who was steadily and
employed” exerted a powerful influence.
THE RESILIENT CHILD AS AN ADULT
The most recent follow-up of 545 subjects at age 30 showed
special young people still shared characteristics that separated
the high-risk peers who had developed major learning and behavior
and whose later records included criminal activity, mental-health
difficulties and early pregnancies.
– Three out of four reported they are pleased with their current
– Eighty-six percent of the women are married mothers with full-time
Only 50 percent of the men have chosen to become parents at this
– Parents of both sexes agree that their strongest hope for their
children is that the youngsters “will acquire personal competence
THE PROTECTIVE FACTORS ARE …
Three major, “relatively enduring” protective factors
have enabled these
strong, resilient, well-functioning individuals to withstand the
that overwhelmed the others who faced them. These are attributes
activity level, sociability, and intelligence, which have a strong
base … unconditional emotional support from a family member
friend … and a school or work atmosphere that rewarded effort
Caregivers may not be able to eliminate “bad” childhoods,
but we can try to
provide some of the proven protective factors that help children
National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the
National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission
is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only
(not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment
and this notice is
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child
Care – NNCC.
(1993). The resilient child. In M. Lopes (Ed.) CareGiver News
(September, p. 2). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Cooperative
Any additions or changes to these materials must be preapproved
by the author .
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ENTRY DATE:: August 1995
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