Core Concepts of Prenatal, Infant, and Toddler Development (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

8.Infants and Toddlers Are Both Vulnerable and Resilient

Shana, a 1-year-old, has experienced much anguish in her short life: excessive hunger, hours of crying for someone to come to her crib to take her out, and bouts of severe diarrhea. She feels vulnerable  (The state of being helpless, defenseless, or open to criticism or danger.) and open to further trauma. What are her sources of vulnerability? They may be parent alcoholism, mental illness, criminality, poverty that contributes to overwhelming stress in the family, or maternal/paternal abuse. These are just a few of the risk factors that increase the likelihood that something negative will happen to Shana’s well-being in the future—her own drug abuse, dropping out of school, or social problems. Yet, there are sources of resilience (ability to thrive despite risk factors) in Shana’s and in many children’s lives that contribute to positive turnarounds
positive turnarounds:  Refers to the resilience of a person to recover from challenging life experiences.  (Werner, 2000). The source of resilience may be within the child—an easygoing, engaging temperament, for example, or a curious mind. Resilience may come from the child’s family—a loving grandfather or a mother who is at first neglectful of her child but then goes to school or gains support for new, positive ways of interacting with her baby. The source of competence for Shana could come later in life in the form of a caring circle of friends, counseling, or an adult mentor. Every person has sources of vulnerability and sources of resilience (Poulsen, 1993; Rouse, 1998; Werner, 1993, 2000).

Let’s explore the topic further. “Risks to development can come both from direct threats and from the absence of normal, expectable opportunities” (Garbarino & Ganzel, 2000, p. 77). Risk conditions can influence current and later outcomes for children in learning, language, social, and emotional development. The most serious detrimental effects occur when multiple risk factors are present in a child’s life (Garbarino & Ganzel, 2000; Sameroff & Chandler, 1975). There are, however, personal and environmental characteristics that contribute to resilience in children who are experiencing risk factors. 

“Resilience is the ability to thrive, mature, and increase competence in the face of adverse circumstances” (Rouse, 1998, p. 47).  Resilient children have aspects within themselves or their environment that help them to withstand more stress and cope better than many other children. Breslin, 2005, notes that it is not helpful to label a child “at risk,” but rather to focus on the strengths and competencies in each child that can help them thrive—the resiliency factors  or features that contribute to the resiliency in the child, can be divided into three groups: personal, environmental, and relationship-based. 

Just as many threads woven tightly together hold up well against outside forces, the more threads of resiliency there are for a child the more likely that they will create a durable tapestry that resonates strength and transformation despite risk and adversity. Werner (2000) demonstrated the importance of protective factors (Shield the child from harmful effects of the environment or relationships and that support the child’s development.) in forming resiliency in a study of 698 multiethnic children born into high-risk environments in 1955. In a follow-up report when those children were 45 years old, Werner found that primarily positive caregiving during the first years of life is a protective factor that results in better adjusted adults. Also, the emotional support of close friends, spouses, adult mentors, and parent education classes contributed to the resiliency of the adults. Werner’s work inspires us to think about the importance of personal, environmental, and relationship factors when planning policy and redesigning programs for infants, toddlers, and their families. When adults recognize risk and resilience factors for young children and their families, then they can make important decisions in community and business practices that recognize the significance of loving, responsive adults for infants and toddlers.

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