Although children are both more dependent and more vulnerable than adults, they can display resilience in the face of adversity, risks and challenges, such as family problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stresses. In other words, children are not simply passive victims of what happens to them. They can exert influence and shape their own lives. It means that children are not always overwhelmed when they experience hardship but can recover or bounce back. Children do not all react in the same way to traumatic and stressful life events. A number of factors contribute to resilience. Children are most likely to display resilience if they have caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. These relationships can offer love and trust, provide role models, and provide encouragement and reassurance. A child’s culture might also have an impact on how he or she deals with adversity. Resilience is not only influenced by the characteristics of a child (including age, temperament, sense of humour, reasoning, sense of purpose, belief in a bright future, and spirituality) it also involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed by any child.
Children’s individual responses to adversity can be understood in terms of ‘risk’ as well as ‘resilience’. Risk refers to factors in a child’s life that mean they are more likely to suffer harm. Risks might include poverty or war, harassment and abuse, neglect and parental problems, all of which inhibit a child’s healthy development.
As a health worker, it is important to be sensitive to all these characteristics of children. You need not only to understand and respond appropriately to children’s vulnerabilities and to their evolving capacities, but also to recognise the competencies, skills and strengths they bring to their own lives and to the decisions that affect them. The following study sessions will look in more detail at the particular needs of children at different ages, and how those needs are recognised as rights of children.
Activity 1.4: Dependency, vulnerability and resilience in African childhoods
- To what extent do you think that these children are recognised as dependent?
- To what extent do you feel they are vulnerable? What harm might they be at risk of in their daily lives?
- What factors might result in these children having resilience to protect themselves against the risks they might experience?
Compare your own answers with the suggestions at the end of the study session.