Although the field of psychology often focuses on studying and treating certain symptoms and maladaptive behaviors, one might sometimes wonder “What actually fosters resilience and psychological well-being in children and adolescents?”
As part of the positive psychology movement, Drs. Ellis P. Copeland and R. Brett Nelson decided to research this specific topic. Their extensive research resulted in the development of a psychological measure entitled The Child and Adolescent Wellness Scale (CAWS), which identifies ten characteristics and skills that have been proven to help children and adolescents become resilient to times of stress and change. They are as follows:
- Adaptability – ability to negotiate difficult situations; preparedness for change; flexibility and acceptance; ability to cope and manage distressing problems and emotions
- Connectedness – feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance in school, family, and the community
- Conscientiousness – an individual’s concern regarding their personal choices and taking responsibility for their actions
- Emotional Self-Regulation – ability to control one’s emotions
- Empathy – an affective response to understanding another’s mental state or condition
- Initiative – ability to be motivated from within to direct effort and attention toward a challenging goal
- Mindfulness – being attentive and aware of what is taking place in the moment
- Optimism – hope and positive expectations for the future
- Self-Efficacy – beliefs in one’s own capabilities to produce desired effects by their own actions (i.e., self-confidence)
- Social Competence – ability to get along well with other children and adolescents
Given that these characteristics promote “wellness” or psychological health in children and adolescents, we should all ask ourselves how we can provide youth with the support and opportunities for developing these specific characteristics and skills.
- The first step that parents can take is appropriately modeling these skills and characteristics for their children. Children closely observe their parents’ behavior for clues and cues on how they should behave and act, and therefore if parents enact these skills and characteristics, their children likely will too.
- An additional step in promoting wellness in children and adolescents and fostering these skills and characteristics is enrolling them in a variety of programs such as after-school programs, summer camps, and group therapy programs. These settings provide children with opportunities to learn and practice these skills in the social situations that often demand them. With appropriate modeling and support from adult staff, they are not left to navigate these situations on their own, but rather can be guided in how to best handle the situation through enacting and embodying the above skills.
If a concerted effort is made to foster wellness in our youth, they will develop the skills and characteristics that will help them cope with the “tough times” and avoid psychological distress. Therefore, there is definitely room in the field of psychology for moving past only treating psychological illness, and instead, also focusing on fostering the skills and characteristics in youth that will help them avoid it in the first place.
Written by Erika Stapert, PsyD