As mentioned above, resilience is a trait that can both be inborn or developed. Using the systematic approach, research uses both the internal qualities and external factors that make up a child’s ability to thrive under distressing conditions and recover from a trauma or loss. Systematically, doing well despite adversity is an outcome of several components in a child’s life (Clinton, 2008). Human beings have a natural tendency to bounce back from adverse situations, but this innate ability of resiliency can be expanded and strengthened. According to others however, “resiliency is not necessarily based on individual characteristics; it occurs at the nexus of high risk and exceptional resources, whether these resources are persona; or environmental in nature.” (Rutter, 2001).
It is important to understand various “high-risk” situations in order to properly define resiliency, since stressful circumstances seem to be the basis of developing resiliency. Researchers investigating resilience in childhood studied children with elevated risk for problems due to social disadvantage, poverty, physical or mental illness, or stress in family systems. Violence, trauma, deprivation, and oppression are also factors that create a risk in childhood development.
Researchers add that there are different levels of risk, as the trauma may emerge from a single life incident or a cumulative risk (Vanderbilt-Adriance & Shaw, 2008). Single incident traumas may include victims of accidents, assault, natural disasters, and crime. Cumulative risks include experiences like stressful life events, history of mental illness, poor parenting, etc.
Following the idea that resilience is developed through high risk life experiences and trauma, there are three conditions that have emerged in a study regarding the development of resilience:
- experiencing distressing life conditions and societal circumstances that are considered threatening or adverse,
- available protective factors which include internal qualities and external resources which may be associated with counteracting the effects of the trauma,
- achieving positive adaptation despite the adversity (Windle, 2011).
“Thus, cultivation of resilience means fostering adolescents’ capacity, flexibility, and coping strategies as they face developmental changes and life stresses in order to “bounce back” from difficult life experiences and achieve positive outcomes” (Lee, Cheung, & Kwong, 2012).
The variables associated with the positive outcome of youth despite exposure to hazardous circumstances, are also known as promotive factors. Promotive factors are the individual characteristics, environmental, and social pieces that impact the child positively through his or her experience. Three basic models have guided resilience research by providing understanding for how promotive factors operate alongside the risk (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005).
The compensatory model refers to a process in which the promotive factors counteract exposure to risk. For example, in a study done on violence in African American youth, children with friends who were involved in violent behaviors were more likely to engage in similar behaviors themselves. However, the adolescents with mothers’ support predicted less violent behavior independent of their friend’s behavior as their mothers’ support counteracted the risk (Zimmerman, Steinman, & Rowe, 1998).
The second model is the protective factor model. In this model the promotive factors moderate the negative effects for risk for predicting negative outcomes (Zimmerman et al., 2013). In this model promotive factors can be referred to as protective factors, to differentiate from the promotive factors that compensate risk exposure. Unlike compensatory factors, protective factors modify the effects of risk in a collaborative way. For example, in a study regarding the association between socioeconomic status and stress, youth who reported using active coping mechanisms, showed lower levels of stress. In this case, coping mechanisms served a protective factor against stress associated with lower socioeconomic status (Schmeelk-Cone, Zimmerman, & Abelson, 2003).
The third model, the challenge model, shows the association between a risk factor and an outcome to be “curvilinear”. While negative outcomes emerge from exposures to both low and high levels of risk, less negative, or sometimes positive outcomes emerge from moderate levels of stress. Adolescents in this case that are exposed to moderate risk factors, are challenged with enough risk to overcome it, but not too much risk which seems impossible to battle (Fleming & Ledogar, 2008).
The International Resilience Project identifies three sources of resilience features which are I Have, I Am, and I Can. A child can draw the following from these three categories. “I have” people around me that I trust, people to guide me, people to help me when I am sick, etc. “I am” a person people can love, happy to do things for others, respectful to myself and others, etc. “I can” talk to other about things that both me, find a solution to a problem, find someone to help me when I need assistance, etc. According to this concept, is a necessary for a child to have some or most of these features in order to be resilient. While these seem simple, they are in fact hard to acquire. However, they are crucial in the development of a child’s resilience, for the child needs to know that they have someone to help them, that they have the ability to communicate the need for guidance, and role models to exemplify behaviors from (Grotberg, 1995).