The question the researchers posed themselves was: Why do
some children succeed in face of adversity while others–growing
up in the same circumstances–fail? A corollary to this question
might be: Why do some children–who have all the advantages of
the good life–fail? These are interesting questions.
One answer to both questions seems to be temperament. The
survival of the human species depends on adults bonding to and
wanting to nurture babies. That is why most babies are cute and
cuddly. Their survival and the survival of the human race
depends on their doing this well. Babies with even, pleasant
temperaments survive. Abused babies are likely to be those who
cry a lot, do not like to be held and have temperaments which
resist change and novelty.
Ann Masten, associate director of the University of
Minnesota’s Institute for Child Development says she has seen
films of Rumanian orphanages where there is always one child
running around looking happy. Although there is not much adult
attention in the orphanage, this child manages to get it all and
Survivors, research seems to show, are those children who
have easy temperaments and who reach out and find a competent,
supportive adult who helps them. These resilient children have
an appealing quality about them which is attractive to adults.
When such a child reaches out, an adult usually responds.
Some concerned citizens are making it easier for children to
find this concerned, caring adult. Companies like the
Kirkpatrick & Lockhart law firm have mentoring programs which
match the children up with a mentor. One lawyer became the
mentor for a girl, who despite living a life which would destroy
most people, was described as having a “sweetness” about her.
The children who reach out come not only from economically
deprived backgrounds, but from all walks of life. They have
learned to solve their own problems. They find the environment
that helps their development, perhaps a church group, or a social
organization or a sports club. If these are not available to
them, they spend a great deal of time at the home of a friend or
relative who offers more support and stability than their own.
These successful children have a plan for the future and
know what they want to get out of life. They are not passive.
Schools help them by providing them with the skills they need to
be successful. One researcher found that the best predictor for
later success was strong reading skills by the 4th grade.
Parents need to be alert to this and not let a child be passed on
from grade to grade without reading skills at least at grade
Schools are the traditional place for these children to find
caring adults. There are not enough personnel in the school to
fill the need, however. Since this is so important for the
success of children, it is critical that companies, other
organizations and individuals take on some of the responsibility
for providing mentors.
All adults are potential mentors. When a child reaches out
to you, recognize the gesture and be there, ready, willing and
able to provide support.