Studies Find One Factor Can Change the Life Outcomes of Disadvantaged Children – So Why Isn’t Anyone Teaching It?

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Recent studies suggest that one factor stands out in distinguishing why some disadvantaged children excel in life while others do not. That factor “resilience,” has proven difficult to teach, yet one researcher believes he's found the formula, and he's put it in a children's book.

Nearly 20 percent of all young people in America experience depression. In disadvantaged communities, stressors like poverty and crime contribute to even higher rates of childhood depression and hopelessness. The effects can carry over to adulthood and cause early death, more health problems, less satisfaction with jobs and relationships, involvement in self-destructive behaviors, and other serious problems. Yet recent studies suggest that one factor stands out in distinguishing why some disadvantaged children excel in life while others do not. That factor is “resilience,” the term used to describe a set of qualities that foster a process of successful adaptation and transformation despite risk and adversity.

In a study of 155 disadvantaged, ethnically diverse children living in Boston, 29 percent of the children were classified as resilient, and 45 percent as non-resilient. Non-resilient youths reported much higher levels of psychiatric symptoms, had more behavior problems, were less competent and functioned at a lower level than the resilient children. After controlling for all other variables, the study found that the strongest independent predictor of resilience is self-regulation. The study’s lead author John Buckner, Ph.D., research associate in the department of psychiatry at Children's Hospital Boston, notes, “This is a very important finding, because self-regulation skills can be taught.”

Self-regulation skills provide the foundation for effective coping with adversity, planning ahead, problem solving, perseverance, social engagement, as well as the ability to delay gratification and control emotions. Buckner states, “Teaching these skills is something that many parents, educators, coaches and other community leaders do already, but a heightened focus could help many children become more resilient.”

While that heightened focus was formerly limited to a small handful of specialist texts, it can now be found in a children’s book. Two Horizons Press, a publishing company based out of Atlanta, Georgia, has announced the release of Real Life is No Fairy Tale, a children’s book that uses a fictional narrative to teach resilience. The book’s author, Sujan Dass, Ed.D, former director of an Atlanta nonprofit targeting high-risk inner-city teens and an award-winning educator, considers the title a teaching tool “disguised as fiction.” Dass explains, “Psychologists and educators have consistently found themselves puzzled regarding the question of how to teach resilience to children. Yet in disadvantaged communities, resilience is one of the most important factors in whether a child ‘makes it’ or not. This book exists to fill that gap and serve that need.”

Real Life is No Fairy Tale is based in an inner-city, where the main character embodies the principles of resilience, demonstrating coping, problem-solving, perseverance, adaptation, and other important self-regulation skills. The book is illustrated by Lord Daniels, a veteran graphic artist who based the artwork on impoverished neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey, and Atlanta. To extend the application of the book, the publishers commissioned the creation of an enhanced CD to accompany the book, containing lesson plans, activities, and an audiobook version of the story for students with difficulty reading. Real Life is No Fairy Tale will be available at all booksellers and from most online retailers June 15, 2010. Excerpts are currently available at the publisher’s website, http://www.TwoHorizonsPress.com

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Najah Ansari
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