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The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as “the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress” (APA 2011). According to Edith Grotberg, a developmental psychologist, “Resilience is important because it is the human capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life” (1995). Developing this capacity relies on protective factors within individuals as well as in the family and community.
The longitudinal studies of researchers like Emmy Werner have reported characteristics in young children that are associated with “coping abilities under adverse conditions” (Werner 1995, 82). According to Werner, infants who are “active, affectionate, cuddly, good-natured, and easy to deal with”are more likely to be resilient in the face of adversity. Other researchers have noted that infants and toddlers who show resilience are “alert, easy to soothe, and able to elicit support from a nurturant family member” (p. 82). Resilient preschoolers’ characteristics include the ability to be autonomous and to ask for help when needed—characteristics that are also predictive of resilience in later years.
Other studies have found additional factors to be associated with resilience in young children. For example, Breslin has studied children who seem to be adequately “adapting and surviving,” despite the negative life events and stress they experience. She has identified four characteristics that resilient children exhibit: heightened sensory awareness, high positive expectations, a clear and developing understanding of one’s strengths relating to accomplishment, and a heightened, developing sense of humor (Breslin 2005).
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