Characteristics of Resilient Individuals


Good health provides protection from the very beginning of life, in part because healthy infants tend to be much easier to take care of. However, children born with less than optimal health still can do well, provided the parents and other care givers have the emotional and physical resources to meet the child’s special needs. For example, Masten, et al. (1988) cite other researchers who have found that premature or low birth weight infants are at much less risk for cognitive deficits when reared in socioeconomically advantaged environments than in low SES households (Sameroll & Chandler, 1975; Wilson, 1985). Moreover, the development of children with early histories of nonorganic failure to thrive (NOFT) is greatly enhanced by secure attachment [see discussion of attachment in next section] to their primary care giver. Compared to insecurely attached NOFT infants, securely attached NOFT infants have been found to be less rigid under stress, to have higher standards of performance, and to be more competent, skillful, and creative at 42 months of age (Brinich, Drotar, and Brinich, 1989).

Another protective factor which some infants are born with is an easy temperament, which includes "an equable mood, malleability, predictability of behavior, mild to moderate intensity of emotional reactions, and an approaching style to new situations" (Rutter, 1987). These children are indeed lucky because, as Rutter notes in his study of children of mentally ill parents, those children with "adverse temperamental features (a composite of low regularity, low malleability, negative mood, and low fastidiousness) were more likely than other children to be the target of parental hostility, criticism, and irritability ... often children with difficult temperaments tend to be scapegoated" (p. 321). Longitudinal studies have also found that children classified as resilient tend to have been more responsive, active, flexible, and adaptable as infants, and this easy temperament probably elicited more positive responses from caretakers (Werner and Smith, 1982; Demos, 1989).

As is the case with children born with health problems, environmental factors can contribute considerably to one’s temperament. Kagan (1981) stresses the interplay of nature and nurture. Infants are born, he says, with physiology and neurochemistry that make them more or less vulnerable to anxiety, challenge, stress, and unfamiliarity. "Temperamental categories," he says, are "changing but coherent profiles of behavior and emotions that are linked to an inherited physiology but are also malleable by environment." In a longitudinal study of infants classified as either inhibited or uninhibited, he found that about 75% of the children could still be classified in their same categories when they were 7 ˝ years of age. He concluded, "We presume that the children who changed their behavior did so because of environmental experiences. The profile that will be displayed by reactive or relaxed infants when they reach adolescence will depend on their home and school environments." It seems likely that being involved in some of the other protective processes which foster the development of resilience would bode well for a positive transformation of one’s temperament.

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