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Protective factors

Resiliency is a complex, interactive phenomenon, in which a child`s social and interpersonal environment play an important role. Resilient attributes such as optimism, perseverance and self-esteem are learned largely through interactions with significant others who model these traits and foster them through their ongoing interactions. Three environments are critical for children: family, school, and the wider community, and each has a role to play in promoting resiliency.

Family

Parental attachment and bonding

The strongest protective factor in a child`s life is the existence of a strong, warm, positive bond with a parent or care-giver. This supportive, caring relationship has been defined as one that is "high in warmth and lacking in severe criticism" (Benard, 1991). This parental bond can serve as the basis for the development of self-esteem, trust, autonomy, empathy and confidence. One important aspect of this positive relationship is parental involvement. A parent`s interest and involvement in a child`s daily activities teaches the child that they are important and worth caring about.

High, clear expectations and consistent boundaries

The communication of clear, consistent and high expectations to children promotes resiliency by fostering a sense of self-belief and internalised high expectations. Parents who communicate to their children the message that they have everything they need to be successful, and who see the potential in their children for well-being, responsibility and common sense, tend to create resilient children. Consistent, reasonable boundaries and the application of positive disciplinary techniques help children to develop a sense of responsibility, respect for social norms, and self-esteem.

Participation of children in family decisions and responsibilities

Children who are encouraged within their family environment to participate in family decision-making and take on age-appropriate household responsibilities learn a sense of responsibility and derive self-esteem from the awareness that they are an important and useful part of the family.

School

Supportive, caring teachers

Research has documented that teachers can act as vitally important role-models and mentors for children (Benard, 1991). However, many teachers underestimate their capacity to promote resiliency in their students (Oswald, Johnson & Howard). Male teachers in particular tend not to adopt a helping, supportive role, instead tending to emphasise concrete problem solving and hard work. The research shows, however, that the support that teachers can provide does not require any special skills - simple listening, empathy and encouragement are all that is required.

Health-promoting policies and school ethos

Resiliency is fostered by schools that have an overall ethos that encourages teachers to take a sincere interest in their students` welfare, that encourages and welcomes the involvement of parents and families, that recognises students` academic, sporting and other achievements, and that embraces the philosophy of `health promoting schools`. Health promoting schools are schools that integrate a recognition of physical, mental, social and environmental aspects of health into all levels of their functioning. For more information about health promoting schools.

Opportunities for involvement

Schools which offers students many opportunities for involvement and participation help to foster a sense of belonging and a belief in personal significance which can counter a sense of alienation and build resiliency. This includes the involving students in school decision making and curriculum planning, using participatory evaluation strategies, offering many extra-curricular activities, using co-operative learning approaches, and encouraging critical thinking.

Stable, positive peer relationships

Close, positive peer relationships are an important protective factor for children. This is particularly true during adolescence. Research has shown that the beneficial effects of good parenting on achievement and prosocial behaviour can be constrained if adolescents associate with antisocial peers. On the other hand, a network of prosocial peers can provide an important source of support and resiliency even in the absence of sound parenting.

Community

A supportive and safe community

Communities that are physically and emotionally safe for children, that have adequate health care and other support services, and that have a culture of respects and concern for young people foster resiliency. Programs such as neighbourhood `safe houses` for children are also helpful.

Opportunities for meaningful community involvement

Children can develop significant resiliency-promoting relationships with mentors through involvement in clubs, teams and other groups in the community. Recreational opportunities in the community offer the potential to develop social connections, competencies and a sense of purposeful co-operation. Involvement in altruistic activities such as volunteering for welfare programs can also help young people to develop responsibility, empathy and a sense of being valuable contributors to the community.