Using a Resiliency Mindset to Choose Interventions for Children

Resilience research provides a useful framework that can help guide parents as they choose clinical interventions for their children.

Research suggests that resiliency can be a part of any child’s development and all children and youth can be helped to become more resilient.

Resilience factors that can be the focus of interventions include mastery, relatedness, and self-regulation of emotional reactivity.

Cognitive and behavior therapies, solution-focused therapy and several family therapy approaches can be understood from a resiliency perspective.

Parents of neurodevelopmentally atypical children sometimes face what can be a bewildering array of clinical intervention ( therapy ) options. A clinical psychology of resilience provides a useful framework that can help parents better understand their options and guide the choice and application of clinical interventions. Defining Resilience in Children and Youth

Early research on resilience identified protective factors present in the lives of people who exhibited healthy development and growth in the face of extreme adversity in childhood or adolescence . This early research assumed that resilient people who thrived in the face of extreme adversity were relatively extraordinary and that the protective factors in their childhood family and community environments that helped them thrive in the face of extreme adversity were relatively uncommon as well.

Later and recent research suggests that resiliency can be a part of any child’s development and that all children and youth are, or can be helped to become, resilient. This research points to personal and social-environment factors that facilitate adaptation across a wide range of stressors, not only extreme adversity. Structured interventions, including individual and family therapies, can help build resilience by fostering these personal and family protective factors. Resilience Factors

Prince-Embury (2007) identifies three categories of personal and social-environmental resilience factors:

  1. Mastery: Sense of competency, self-efficacy, positive expectations about the future, positive beliefs about one’s skills and abilities. Sense-of mastery is attained through large but also small, successful but also partially successful, interactions with the physical and social environment (family, school, peers).
  2. Relatedness: Positive relationships with parents, with siblings and other relatives, with non-parent adults such as teachers, neighbors, or religious leaders, and with peers. Personal qualities that can promote a sense of relatedness include good social and communication skills, confidence in the availability of social partners, and secure attachment. Social environments characterized by available and trustworthy adults promote relatedness.
  3. Ability to Self-Regulate Emotional Reactivity: Ability to modulate and modify negative emotions triggered by adverse events and circumstances. It is helpful to think in terms of the speed and intensity of negative emotional responses and time it takes to recover from negative emotional responses. The ability to adaptively self-regulate can be seen as a set of skills that can be learned.

It is important to note that sense of mastery can be even more important than actual mastery, and sense of relatedness can be even more important than actual relatedness. Sense of emotional control and not just actual control over-reactivity is important as well.

Many Child and Family Interventions Can Be Viewed as Promoting Resilience

Sense of mastery, relatedness, and emotional control are cognitive variables that can be a target of cognitive therapy. Resilience focused cognitive therapy might focus on promoting adaptive automatic thoughts and rules-assumptions and, especially, developing healthy core beliefs such as: “I am capable,” “I can succeed,” “I am able to learn,” “I am likable,” “I am lovable,” “I can handle setbacks,” “I can learn from challenges,” “I have choices,” “I can make my needs known,” “people care about me,” “someone can help me.”

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