Academic journal article Family Relations

Short-Term Resilience Processes in the Family

Academic journal article Family Relations

Short-Term Resilience Processes in the Family

Article excerpt

Resilience refers to positive development despite exposure to significant stressors that place individuals at risk for psychopathology and poor health (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). Although the term is typically used to describe an outcome, processes that promote resilience are an important target for resilience research. For example, iterative and dynamic transactions between a child and his or her family may promote the development of internal resources that help children respond to stressors in an adaptive fashion. We propose that certain qualities of everyday family life contribute to a propensity to respond with positive emotion and to a healthy diurnal cortisol rhythm that, in turn, act as emotional and physiological resources for coping with chronic stressors.

Some child-rearing practices seem to foster the development of more resilient children. For example, research suggests that parental warmth attenuates the prospective association between witnessing community violence and future elevated levels of depressive symptoms in children (Aisenberg & Herrenkohl, 2008). Findings like these are consistent with a protective model of resilience, in which a particular family characteristic minimizes the negative impact of stressors on child development. Other resilience models have also been described (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005). According to a compensatory model, protective and risk factors are independently linked to outcomes (Garmezy, Masten, & Tellegen, 1984), such as the independent effects that a parent's smoking behavior and involvement in a child's life at school have on the likelihood that the child will smoke (Fleming, Kim, Harachi, & Catalano, 2002). An inoculation model posits that early exposure to mild stress can have a "steeling effect"; for instance, by affording opportunities to practice emotion regulation and coping strategies, which prepare children to respond more effectively to future stressors (Rutter, 2012).

Despite considerable research supporting each of the three models of resilience (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005), little attention has been devoted to daily family processes that may underlie the associations they describe. An exception is DiCorcia and Tronick's (2011) focus on mild stress conferred by moments of miscommunication between parents and infants, which inevitably arise in even the most synchronous interactions. They suggest, in line with an inoculation model, that these moments permit infants to practice skills that are useful when facing future stressors. Here we explore underpinnings of the protective model of resilience by reviewing naturalistic studies of short-term family processes that may contribute to cross-sectional and longitudinal links between the family social environment and child resilience. We argue that warm, supportive, and responsive interactions with family members have an immediate influence on the functioning of children's emotion systems and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and that these short-term effects help to account for the protection that these family factors seem to confer in the long run.

Naturalistic research methods are increasingly used by researchers to assess life "as it is lived" in families. Data may be collected through direct observations of families in everyday settings or intensive repeated measures, such as self-report forms ("daily diaries") completed by family members once or more each day. These approaches permit within-person and within-dyad analyses that examine how experiences in the family relate to short-term changes in an individual's internal state or behavior. (Repetti, Reynolds, & Sears, in press; Repetti, Robles, & Reynolds, 2011). Although natu-' ralistic studies of short-term processes within the family are not nearly as prevalent as other designs, our review focuses on them whenever possible to explore resilience processes in the context of daily family life.

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