suggests why some thrive despite adversity Many children who face
severe hardship growing up have little chance of succeeding in life,
but according to researchers from Children’s Department
of Psychology, that may not need to be the case.
In a recent study published in Development and Psychopathology,
John Buckner, PhD, and co-authors Enrico
Mezzacappa, MD, and William
Beardslee, MD, psychiatrist-in-chief,
found that children who face adversity are more likely to persevere
if they have a set of cognitive and emotional skills known as self-regulation.
“These skills include seeing the consequences of one’s actions,
planning ahead, setting goals, being focused and attentive…and especially
learning to be proactive,” says Buckner. On the non-cognitive side,
self-regulation means learning to control emotions such as anger
and frustration. “These are the building blocks of effective coping
in life,” says Buckner.
The findings are particularly important because self-regulation
skills can be taught and learned. “When a teacher helps a child
pay attention in class or a coach counsels a kid who throws the
bat after striking out, those adults are teaching self-regulatory
skills,” says Buckner. “This is something that many parents and
educators do already, but a heightened focus could help many children
become more resilient.”
In the study, the differences between children who proved resilient
(or competent despite adversity) and non-resilient were striking,
says Buckner. The study involved 155 low-income, extremely disadvantaged
children ages 8 to 17 living in Worcester, Mass., many of whom had
experienced homelessness in the past.
The results showed that 29 percent of the children were classified
as resilient, and 45 percent as non-resilient. The mental health,
competence, and overall adjustment of the typical resilient youth
was well within normal limits, while the non-resilient youths had
many more psychiatric symptoms and behavioral problems, were less
competent and functioned at a lower level. And the strongest independent
predictor of resilience was a child’s self-regulation skills, although
parental monitoring also played a role.
Although the study focused on mental health issues, the results
have broader relevance, says Buckner, “While educators today must
focus on getting kids ready for MCAS, the more basic lessons that
can get missed become important down the road and can make a child
more successful in life.”-CM