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A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in ChildrenReview - A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children
by Colby Pearce
Jessica Kingsley, 2011
Review by Asfia Qaadir
Sep 20th 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 38)

Colby Pearce has worked extensively as a clinical psychologist in Australia, focused on attachment disorders related to abuse, neglect, and trauma.  He is an internationally published author on children's mental health.  His current contribution is part of the JKP Short Introduction series, introducing professional and personal caregivers to essential topics, including mental health.  His goal is "to provide...a clear vision of how to ensure that children realize their natural inheritance to be resilient."  Following an introductory chapter, there are three chapters devoted to three categories of resiliency and each chapter ends with a review.  The book is replete with easy-to-relate-to examples, taken both from the author's personal experiences as well as clinical and hypothetical examples.  The examples are simple, conveying his meaning clearly. The language of the book is accessible to a general readership.  Highlights include a chart for behavioral interventions, his relating cognitive behavioral therapy to care of children, and a review of self-calming techniques.

The primary theme is that resilience must be nurtured in children, enabling them to develop self-esteem through "experiences of achievement" as they explore their environments, which ultimately leads to successful lives as adults.  The prologue sets forth examples of children playing at a park.  The situations differ in the children's interactions with their parents as they explore the world of the playground, an apt metaphor for the child discovering and exploring his/her world.  The situations also differ in which interactions promote positive experiences of mastery in the children.  For Pearce, this is the essence of the development of resilience.  Caretakers who understand the intrinsic biological (self-calming), psychological (attachment), and environmental (needs provision) components of resilience are better equipped to promote positive experiences of mastery and resilience.  By restating this central theme throughout each chapter, Pearce never loses the focus of his message.  As an author, he remains engaged in his topic, but never loses an awareness of his readers.  Explanations of key concepts are not rushed, but presented methodically.

Pearce defines resilience: "[T]hat quality of the individual that enables them [sic] to persist...and recover...."  Resilience, for Pearce, is an active, essential ingredient in a child's healthy development.  A child must have resilience in order to feel comfortable exploring his/her world, to seek out challenges and take healthy risks, thereby achieving successful and productive lives. He illustrates the power of resilience in his own life.  Despite medical adversity as a teenager he managed to persevere and ultimately succeed in life.  Despite the focus on academic and vocational achievements and productivity, readers should be reassured that success in relationships as well as healthy self-esteem are just as important and are goals of resilience in themselves.  This is especially true for young people.  Feeling secure enough to explore the world around them enables children and adolescents to make friends, negotiate boundaries, relate to others, and learn to accept themselves.  These are incredibly important moments in development that continue to impact their future relationships.  He does not directly lay out developmental milestones in resilience, and this would have complemented his work and been helpful for caregivers.  There are various types of resiliencies within a child's developing personality structure, considering cognitive and emotional development, and Pearce seems to acknowledge a model of resilience that is helpful but incomplete.

There are, indeed, alternative approaches to understanding resilience that caregivers will find helpful.  In addressing resilience it is helpful to look at factors related to the individual child (much of Pearce's book), but also the family, and the environment (other adults/ community resources).  Although Pearce makes a clear case for developing a child's internal resources, the argument can lead to the assumption that resilience requires primarily cultivating individual capacity.  More accurately, however, we cannot neglect to address relationships within families that affect children together with environmental resources that make a difference for our most vulnerable children.   Pearce does, quite literally to "be complete," mention community resources.  A vague tally of medical, governmental, social welfare, and public housing programs are not further explicated, despite their direct impact on the outcome of so many children's development and capacity for resilience.  Pearce himself is part of this crucial network of community providers, but it is easy to lose this perspective for the primary focus on the child.  Although one may contend that by addressing the book to caregivers in general, he has implicitly made this point, a discussion of these crucial resources, perhaps illustrating how they may work together, is merited.  Many of Pearce's readers may be motivated through care of a child who is struggling. Knowledge of how multiple care-providers can integrate their roles to fully address the child's needs is essential to a discussion of resilience.  Some children who struggle also come from family structures that are vulnerable and the initial step in promoting resilience must follow from establishing a stable living environment for the child. 

Pearce's goal to present a "clear vision" of building resilience is lofty within the confines of a "short introduction" series.  His book does elucidate valuable aspects of building resilience from the standpoint of internal resources.  A more helpful organization, however -- and clearer vision -- of such a broad and wonderfully rich topic is to address the developing child within a family system that in turn exists within a community of potentially integrated resources.  There are established screening tools for resilience.  A discussion of how to use these tools would complement Pearce's aim and be incredibly useful to caregivers. 

Peace's book is a short introduction to a vital concept in child and adolescent development and is necessarily incomplete.  It does, however, introduce a discussion that must be carried further.  By raising questions about resilience, we clarify interventions, leading to healthier development.  Indeed, the composite resiliencies in a child are the essential and ever-evolving foundation upon which all other aspects of his/her development are subsequently built.  A separate series, focused entirely on aspects of resilience, then, is recommended.  Until then, Pearce's current book can be a valuable resource if its limitations and proper scope are appreciated. 

 

© 2011 Asfia Qaadir

 

Asfia Qaadir is a resident physician in her second year of psychiatric residency at Mayo Clinic.  She received her B.A. degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Chicago and her D.O. degree from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine.  Clinical interests include women's mental health, child and adolescent psychiatry, and severe persistent mental illness.  Academic interests include depression, psychosis, and systems-based practice.


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