In this sample, maternal HIV/AIDS was a risk factor among children that could affect resiliency—more severe maternal illness was associated with decreased resiliency. Resilient children of HIV-positive mothers in this sample reported better coping self-efficacy than did non-resilient children. This is consistent with findings cited earlier by Lin et al. (2004)
showing that resilient children had greater efficacy in coping with stress. Such coping and interpersonal problem solving skills play a crucial role in adjustment (Sandler, Wolchik, MacKinnon, Ayers, & Roosa, 1997
; Spivack, Platt, & Shure, 1976
), with positive consequences in social and school adjustment (e.g., Weissberg & Gesten, 1982
). It may be that among this sample of resilient children, those who have a strong relationship with adult care-taking figures have learned and been reinforced for coping skills by these adults. The findings from this sample fit with Werner’s (1984)
identification of factors that resilient children have in common, including an active approach toward problem solving, and a tendency to perceive experiences constructively.
The children classified as resilient also evidenced better self-esteem and higher self-report of effectiveness than the non-resilient children. Data from the mothers of these children served as a second informant validation of those findings, with mothers reporting lower negative mood, interpersonal problems, ineffectiveness, anhedonia, and negative self-esteem. This may be linked to better coping skills, in that these children may be able to cope with depression more effectively than the non-resilient children. However, it should be noted that across both groups at baseline assessment, mean depression levels were similar to normative samples (e.g., Chartier, & Lassen, 1994
; Finch, Saylor, & Edwards, 1985
; Kovacs, 1985
), which have means for CDI Total Score of approximately 9.3 to 9.7. In this study, the mean for CDI Total Score was 9.05 for resilient children, and 9.70 for non-resilient children, suggesting neither group was severely depressed. Over time continued declines were shown across both groups, indicating more positive affect, with resilient children evidencing steeper declines by the last time-point (e.g., M
= 3.76 for resilient children, and M
= 7.33 for non-resilient children). Thus, the resilient children are showing less depressive symptoms, even if neither group is at a clinically significant cut-off level.
While the discussion thus far has focused on the characteristics of the resilient children, one very important point of this study is that the majority of the children (68%) were classified as non-resilient. Those children are dealing with poorer coping self-efficacy and more depressive symptoms. They could benefit from a number of efforts to improve their resiliency outcomes. First, such children are likely to not report that they have a strong adult attachment in their life, and research indicates they could strongly benefit from such a contact. This approach has been utilized by the Minneapolis school system (Minneapolis Public Schools, 1991
), in which children are paired with an adult who becomes a support system for them (e.g., for tutoring, homework, etc.). Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America could also be a resource. Second, non-resilient children of HIV-infected mothers could benefit from problem solving and coping skills training. Children can be taught to label feelings, develop self-control, learn problem-solving skills, and apply anger management techniques (e.g., Pedro-Carrol, Sutton, & Wyman, 1999
; Stolberg & Mahler, 1994
; Wolchik et al., 2002
). Children in such programs, in addition to showing skills acquisition, may show improvements in clinical symptomatology. Finally, these children also may benefit from direct psychotherapeutic intervention for depression. Relieving psychological distress may assist these children in being able to function and cope more adaptively, as well as facilitate attachment to adult figures that can provide support.
In summary, the children classified as resilient in our study are functioning in some areas--specifically in coping self-efficacy and mood--better than children classified as non-resilient. Coping skills and competence reduce a child’s vulnerability to deviant behaviors (Wills, Blechman, & McNamara, 1996
), such as aggression and substance use, and to adverse life outcomes, such as arrest or teen pregnancy. Findings from this study support previous hypothesized models that predict that adult support will lead to more adaptive coping, and the development of competence (Wills et al.).
This study did have a number of limitations. Future studies with larger sample sizes may be able to investigate ethnic differences among resilient children, as well as age/developmental differences. Another caveat regards the hierarchical cluster analysis results and the use of both child and mother reports on “externalizing behaviors” from the CBCL. Some bias may have entered the cluster procedure since the measures assess the same construct from different informants, and therefore may have unduly influenced the resiliency categorization.