Profile of Resilient Child
According to the literature, the resilient child is one who “works well, plays well, loves well, and expects well.” Resilient children usually have four attributes: social competence, problem-solving skills, autonomy, and a sense of purpose and future.
Social competence includes qualities such as responsiveness—especially the ability to elicit positive responses from others—flexibility, empathy, caring, communication skills, and a sense of humor. From early childhood on, resilient children tend to establish positive relationships with both adults and peers that help bond them to their family, school, and community.
Problem-solving skills encompass the abilities to think abstractly and reflectively and to be able to attempt alternate solutions for both cognitive and social problems. Two skills are especially important: planning, which facilitates seeing oneself in control; and resourcefulness in seeking help from others. The literature on children growing up in slums provides an extreme example of the role these skills play in the development of resiliency; these children must continually negotiate the demands of their environment or die (Felsman 1989).
Autonomy is having a sense of one’s own identity and an ability to act independently and exert some control over one’s environment. Several researchers have also identified the ability to separate oneself from a dysfunctional family environment—to detach enough from parental distress to maintain outside pursuits and satisfactions—as the major characteristic of resilient children growing up in families with alcoholism and mental illness (Berlin and Davis 1989).
A sense of purpose entails having goals, educational aspirations, persistence, hopefulness, and a sense of a bright future. Werner and Smith conclude that:
The central component of effective coping with the multiplicity of inevitable life stresses appears to be a sense of coherence, a feeling of confidence that one’s internal and external environment is predictable and that things will probably work out as well as can be reasonably expected (1989). When looking at this profile of a resilient child, we must look beyond personality traits and the ever-present temptation to “blame the victim” or “fix the kid” and examine the environmental characteristics that have fostered the development of resiliency. Families, schools, and communities that have protected children growing up in adversity are characterized by (1) caring and support, (2) positive expectations, and (3) ongoing opportunities for participation.