Children can develop resilience with strong family connections
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Children can develop resilience with strong family connections

by Freya Lucas

July 02, 2019

A new study, led by researchers from the US institution John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has found that children living in families with higher levels of resilience and connection are much more likely to flourish. 


The likelihood of flourishing – that is, doing well in life despite adversity – is true for children across all levels of household income, health status and exposure to adverse childhood experiences. 


The findings, published in the May issue of Health Affairs, suggest that more emphasis should be placed on programs to promote family resilience and parent-child connection, in conjunction with continued efforts to lessen children’s negative childhood experiences, such as poverty or maltreatment.


Dr Christina Bethell, lead author of the study, noted that family resilience and connection were key components required for all children to flourish, regardless of their level of adversity, adding that the connection between a parent and their child had “a particularly strong” association with child flourishing. 


To conduct the study, data from the National Survey of Children’s Health were used, as findings from the survey provide a nationally representative sample of over 51,000 school-age children between ages of six and seventeen. 


Children’s parents or guardians answered a series of questions about child flourishing, family resilience and connection, the child’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), household income (using federal poverty-level guidelines) and whether the child had a chronic condition and special health care needs. 


ACEs include a range of experiences associated with trauma and toxic stress in children, like exposure to household substance abuse, serious mental illness, family and neighbourhood violence and loss of a parent through death, incarceration or divorce.


Researchers determined that children could be said to be “flourishing” if their parents reported that three things were “definitely true” about their children: 


  • They were curious and interested in learning new things; 


  • They were able to work to complete tasks they start; and, 


  •  They were able to stay calm and in control when faced with a challenge. 


These qualities, researchers said, contribute to flourishing in adulthood, which is most fundamentally characterised by having a sense of meaning and engagement in life and positive relationships. 


Parents also answered questions to assess family resilience and connection, including how families respond when facing problems, how well parents and children share ideas or talk about things that really matter and how well parents cope with the day-to-day demands of raising children.   


The study found that only 40 per cent of children were flourishing. This ranged from 29.9 per cent to 45.0 per cent across U.S. states. 


Nearly half of children (48 per cent) lived in families that reported the highest levels of resilience and connection. These children had over three times greater odds of flourishing compared to the 25.5 per cent of children living in families reporting the lowest levels of resilience and connection. 


A similarly strong association of resilience and connection with flourishing was found across all groups of children, regardless of their level of adversity as assessed by their level of ACEs exposure, exposure to poverty and presence of a chronic condition and special health care needs.


“With only four in ten children flourishing, we need population-wide approaches to promoting child flourishing,” Dr Bethell said.


“Especially critical are efforts to foster safe, stable and nurturing family relationships by encouraging parents to communicate with their children about things that really matter to the child and family,” she added. 


The study, Family Resilience and Connection Promotes Flourishing Among U.S. Children, Even Amid Adversity was written by Christina D. Bethell, Narangerel Gombojav (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and Robert C. Whitaker (Columbia-Bassett Program of the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Bassett Medical Center) and may be accessed here

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