Some children have risk factors that would ordinarily suggest a likelihood of developmental-behavior problems, but despite all that they still thrive and do well. How come?
There’s lots of research on resilience (also called protective) factors that help children do well in school and… in life.
Resilience factors for young children include:
Positive parenting styles (i.e., permissive or authoritative) wherein parents actively (and age-appropriately) teach children new things, label objects of interest, talk with children at meals, share books with their children, perceive their child as sooth-able, and as interested in conversing (including back-and-forth sound play in infancy, playing peek-a-boo, etc.).
Parents who have good mental health (are not depressed, anxious, etc.)
For older children, the best resilience factors are (in many cases as with younger children):
A responsive and interested parent
Good mental health in both parents and child
A child's success in something...anything! Success helps prevent mental health problems because it brings self-confidence, and increases interest in learning and working.
Success in school is optimal, of course, but even if a child is not the best of students, then success (and pride) in other accomplishments, also works well (e.g., in music, sports, art, fixing things, helping others, etc.).
Having an encouraging mentor or parent is also important. Also helpful is participation in programs like Boys and Girls’ Club, volunteering, after school clubs, scouting, etc.
What to look for in terms of risk and resilience
In the section about quality measures, we talk about available tools for measuring risk and resilience. Measurement is needed to detect these challenges and strengths. But overall:
If you don’t find lots of psychosocial risk factors but still see a problematic parenting style, we encourage you to address this promptly. Research shows that the lack of protective factors especially “conversations” with parents have a visible adverse impact on development even by 12 months of age.
If you do see lots of risk factors but notice two-way communication between parent and child, you can worry a bit less about the child’s outcome. But never, cease to be vigilant.
Helpful tools for monitoring risk and resilience are available on this site. In particular, the Family Psychosocial Screen and the Brigance Parent-Child Interactions Scale are useful for deciding when parenting interventions are needed. Click Here to read more.
Development develops. Developmental problems do too. The adverse impact of psychosocial risk factors coupled with a lack of resilience factors increases with time. Even the outcomes of prematurely born children who have lots of medical risk factors that predict developmental problems, such health-related risks are most often eclipsed by psychosocial risk and lack of protective factors. So…it makes sense that the American Academy of Pediatrics calls for repeated screening and surveillance of psychosocial risk and resilience factors, and prompt intervention when indicated.