Emotional Resilience Blog from The Fear Course

The latest research, realisations and thinking in the world of emotional resilience, anxiety and fear reduction from around the world.

Why some babies cry a lot and how it causes later problems

Why some babies cry a lot and how it causes later problems

Anyone who has had a baby that cried excessively can probably attest to the stress and anxiety this can cause.

Obviously people's tolerance for crying babies differs, however excessively crying has been defined as crying for more than 3 hours a day on at least 3 days a week over a period of 3 weeks or more, when that crying is not associated with hunger or physical pain.

A study just published this week by researchers at the Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, at the Technical University of Dresden, Germany looked at 306 expectant mothers and followed them from just after they became aware they were pregnant until 16 weeks after the birth of their child. Two of the factors they measured was the mothers level of anxiety and depression both before and after the birth of the baby. Firstly they found that just over 10% of the mothers reported excessive crying in their infants according to the definition above.

What they discovered was that there was a significant link between the level of anxiety the mother experienced before the birth and the chance of the baby engaging in excessive crying in the 16 weeks after birth. Additionally there was no link with depression and excessive crying.

Another study published in the Journal 'Pediatrics' on the 6th of January this year, by a team of scientists from Finland showed that excessive crying in babies has significant links to later behavioural problems for the child and also (not surprisingly) increased stress for both the mother and father as the child grows.

Mothers who suffer from any form of anxiety during pregnancy are 3-7 times more likely to have a baby that cries excessively than the rest of the population of mothers to be. The researchers recommend early identification, monitoring and treatment of anxiety in all mothers to be.

 

References

Korja, P., etal (2014) Preterm Infant's Early Crying Associated With Child's Behavioral Problems and Parents' Stress. Pediatrics 2014; 133:2 e339-e345; published ahead of print January 6, 2014, doi:10.1542/peds.2013-1204

Petzoldt, J., etal (2014) Maternal anxiety disorders predict excessive infant crying: a prospective longitudinal study. Archives of Disease in Childhood. June 2014 doi:10.1136/archdischild-2013-305562

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Who do you trust and why - the answer may surprise you

Who do you trust and why - the answer may surprise you

As a human, trust is vital to us for a secure and flourishing life. It is what underpins our relationships and the closer and more intimate those relationships become the greater the level of trust employed in them. But who do we decide to trust or not trust when we first meet people. Who is it that passes the first few trust tests so that we often go on to form deeper relationships with?
Trust is an emotion. It is an emotional response to the apparent congruence between our perception of someone and our interpretation of their actions. In other words we tend to trust people if what they say and what they do are similar and their actions are not harmful in anyway towards us.
The psychologist Erik Erikson has the formation of trust as the very first stage of psychological development of a child and that all human attachment and safety stems from the first bonds of trust they develop. Erikson firmly understood that the formation of trust with the child's caregiver is the most important stage of human development and will, in effect, lay down the blueprint for forming secure, trusting and intimate relationships for the rest of that individual's life.
The effect of trust being broken will depend on the level of relationship you have with the other individual. When a trust is broken in an intimate relationship, the results can be devastating.

So who do we trust and why? A series of recent studies sheds some interesting light on what happens. One would think that trust is earned. However it would appear to be the opposite for most people. We tend to trust first and then remove the level of trust if it is shown to have been incorrect. The obvious exception to this is where we have recently had a previous significant negative experience, however studies have shown that for most people this doesn't usually last too long.

A number of studies found that we tend to trust strangers far more than there is evidence to do so. Indeed in laboratory simulations, it has been found that people tend to trust people they don't know even where the risk, if the trust were betrayed, would lead to significant loss or even injury. A study published last month showed that what the researchers termed 'excessive trust' in strangers, in most cases stems from an emotional sense that they are fulfilling a 'social duty' or 'responsibility'. In other words it is perceived to be socially unacceptable to show distrust without evidence, especially in the case of strangers. In the case of strangers there is some evidence that anxiety about being judged as mean or not a nice person fuels this excessive trust.

In another study, published this week, it was shown that we tend to be more likely to trust strangers who smile and not trust people who look angry. Children in the age range of 6-12 are particularly susceptible to this effect and children with ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder show an even more marked trust response to individuals who smile. As a parent I find this particularly disturbing.

However it is not just children. Adults are also more likely to trust a stranger who smiles over one with a neutral or angry face.

Numerous studies show that people of all ages tend to make a decision whether to trust someone or not purely based on the look of a stranger's face. What is more there is a cognitive bias called the bias blind spot. We all tend to believe that we are less biased than others and that our beliefs are more likely to be accurate even in the face of evidence to show that we are no more correct than random chance.

The main thing to take from this is that we tend to overly believe our estimations of trustworthiness based on facial 'look' and that for most people social anxiety about being perceived as mean or 'not nice' pushes into what we believe is socially acceptable niceness of trusting first and the belief that we should always show respect for the other person's character, even if there is a lot at risk.

 

 

References

Adolphs R, Tranel D, Damasio AR (1998) The human amygdala in social judgment. Nature: 470–473.

Caulfield F, Ewing L, Burton N, Avard E, Rhodes G (2014) Facial Trustworthiness Judgments in Children with ASD Are Modulated by Happy and Angry Emotional Cues. PLoS ONE 9(5): e97644. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097644

Chang LJ, Doll BB, van't Wout M, Frank MJ, Sanfey AG (2010) Seeing is believing: Trustworthiness as a dynamic belief. Cognitive Psychology 61: 87–105.

Dunning, D. etal (2014) Trust at zero acquaintance: More a matter of respect than expectation of reward. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, May 12 , 2014 doi: 10.1037/a0036673

Gao X, Maurer D (2010) A happy story: Developmental changes in children's sensitivity to facial expressions of varying intensities. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 107: 67–86.

Gao X, Maurer D (2009) Influence of intensity on children's sensitivity to happy, sad, and fearful facial expressions. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 102: 503–521.

Hassin R, Trope Y (2000) Facing faces: Studies on the cognitive aspects of physiognomy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78: 837–852.

Haynes S (2011) Judgments of trustworthiness from faces: Do children and adults judge alike?: The University of Western Australia.

Rotenberg KJ, Fox C, Green S, Ruderman L, Slater K, et al. (2005) Construction and validation of a children's interpersonal trust belief scale. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 23: 271–293.

Rotenberg KJ (1994) Loneliness and interpersonal trust. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 13: 152–173.

Rule NO, Krendl AC, Ivcevic Z, Ambady N (2013) Accuracy and consensus in judgments of trustworthiness from faces: Behavioral and neural correlates. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 104: 409–426.

Rule NO, Ambady N (2008) The face of success. Psychological Science 19: 109–111.

Todorov A, Pakrashi M, Oosterhof NN (2009) Evaluating faces on trustworthiness after minimal time exposure. Social Cognition 27: 813–833.

Willis J, Todorov A (2006) First impressions: Making up your mind after 100 ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science 17: 592–598.

Zebrowitz LA, Montepare JM (2008) Social psychological face perception: Why appearance matters. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2: 1497–1517.

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How we inadvertently teach children to become emotional eaters

How we inadvertently teach children to become emotional eaters

A number of research studies have estimated that about 1 in 3 mothers of young children suffer from stress, anxiety and/or depression particularly during the first few years of motherhood. The question is does this have any effect on the children and if so what?

A series of studies have shown that that there is a connection between the stress, depression and anxiety levels of the mother and later life depression, stress and anxiety in the child. Other connections have been found with how well the children grow to learn how to regulate their own emotions. For example the greater the level of maternal stress, anxiety and depression during the first two to four years, the greater the chance the child will also have problems with regulating their own emotions as they grow up.

A new study about to be published next month in the academic journal Appetite, an international research journal specialising in the social science, psychology and neuroscience of food consumption, looked at the effects of the mother's level of anxiety, depression and stress on:

  1. The mother's level of emotional eating, and
  2. Whether the mother feeds the child in order to regulate the child's emotions.

The definition of emotional eating is eating for any reason other than just hunger.

There are broadly three feeding practices that parents tend to engage in with their children:

  1. Nutritive feeding, which is giving the child food only when the child is hungry
  2. Instrumental feeding, which is feeding a child as a reward, for example sweets for being good or doing something, and
  3. Emotional feeding, which is when the parent feeds the child to pacify it when it is upset. An example of this would be when a child has hurt itself or has had a toy taken by another sibling and gets given chocolate to help calm it down as a kind of 'there there". Pleasure or feel good feeding, "I got you this because you like it" is also emotional feeding.

The study, conducted by scientists and practitioners at six universities and hospitals in the US, France and Australia, looked at the levels of stress, anxiety and depression in 3 mothers of children between one and a half and two and a half years old (the average age of the mothers in the study was 35), and examined the links with any emotional eating behaviours of the mothers, child- feeding practices, and lastly the child's own emotional eating habits.

This is important because other studies have found strong links between the use of consuming food to regulate emotions and both childhood and later life obesity, with all the health risks that entails. Additionally last week I reported on a study which found a link between being overweight and the level of anxiety a person experiences, and how losing weight can reduce anxiety levels as well as having a range of other health benefits.

The mothers were observed for whether or not they were using food as any kind of reward (called instrumental feeding) or when the child started to display unwanted emotions or behaviours (emotional feeding).

The first links the researchers found was that, as the mothers' anxiety, stress and/or depression increased so did their own emotional eating. They found exactly the same pattern with the children. As their anxiety or stress increased so did the level of emotional eating.

The question is how did the children learn to engage in emotional eating?

The researchers were able to separate out the factors and found a sequence of events that lead to the child self-medicating emotional issues with food.

They discovered that as the mothers' anxiety, stress and/or depression increased so did their tendency to engage in both instrumental and emotional eating themselves and as a consequence of this they then started engaging in non-nutritive feeding practices with their children.

In other words, when the mothers experienced stress, anxiety or depression, they tended to first engage in emotional eating themselves and then transfer this to their feeding behaviour towards the children. So it is much more likely that a mother would feed a child when she is feeling down or anxious rather than waiting until the child is hungry itself and as a result, the child then learns to use food as an emotion regulation strategy, rather than only eating when hungry.

As stated before, emotional eating tends to result in obesity which in turn increases a loss of self-worth and an increase in anxiety, which then leads to more emotional eating and so on.

Learning better and more healthy emotion regulation strategies than emotional eating is therefore essential to breaking this habit and the spiral that ensues.

 

Click here to learn how to regulate your emotions without engaging in emotional eating

 

Reference
Rachel F. Rodgers, Susan J. Paxton, Siân A. McLean, Karen J. Campbell, Eleanor H. Wertheim, Helen Skouteris, Kay Gibbons, Maternal Negative Affect is Associated with Emotional Feeding Practices and Emotional Eating in Young Children, Appetite (2014), http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.05.022.

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The emotional impact of internet addiction on our children

The emotional impact of internet addiction on our children

The internet is an amazing resource and social connector and a recent study found that about 90% of school children with internet access use it to get educational information for school work, as well as other activities such as playing games and social interaction for example. Like most things in life, used responsibly the internet is a fantastic resource and can be a lot of fun.

However there have been a rash of recent studies showing that the prevalence of internet addiction, the feeling one needs to go online as a first recourse and as a preference to engaging with other real life activities, especially among children, is growing. The estimations of the growth of internet addiction in academic research studies range from 1.4% up to 17.9% of the adolescent population or 11 - 15 year olds in both western and eastern cultures. With newly published studies coming in at the higher end of this range, this means that somewhere approaching 1 in 6 of our 11-15 year old children may well be addicted to the internet. Given the study I reported on last week, this is likely to get worse as todays internet toddlers grow into adolescents.

Like every addiction, internet addiction carries a cost and a study to be published next month in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry highlights some of that cost.

The study looked at 2293 11-14 year olds and assessed them for levels of depression, hostility, social anxiety whilst also monitoring their online habits. The researchers then measured the children a year later to see if there were any links. Now a number of studies have already linked internet addiction with depression, particularly in young adults, 16 - 21 year olds.

The interesting thing about this study is the inclusion of social anxiety. There have been a number of studies already which show that people tend to feel less social anxiety whilst online compared to face-to-face interaction. There is strong speculation in the academic world that this effect maybe driving some peoples addiction to the internet as a proxy for live 'in person' social engagement.

Additionally two studies have found that people with depression also have lower levels of anxiety and hostility when socialising online. This sounds like the internet is a good thing for these people, right?

A famous study in 2011 found that chronic online gamers suffered from greater levels of depression, social anxiety, social phobia (complete aversion to face-to-face contact), and aggression / hostility than individuals who either didn't partake of such games or were just light users. The effects of this aren't just mental. Studies have found that people with higher levels of internet derived aggression and hostility also have higher levels of cardiovascular issues as well as other circulatory problems.

Anyway, this study, led by Dr. Ju-Yu Yen an academic, medical doctor and psychiatrist, found that the longer an individual is addicted, particularly in the adolescent years, the slower the recovery, when treatment or an intervention occurs. Basically the sooner internet addiction is found and dealt with the better the outcome and the faster the symptoms of depression, anxiety and hostility / aggression will reduce.

A number of interventions have been tested where internet addicted people with high levels of depression, anxiety and aggression / hostility have their online addiction treated with positive results. The aggression / hostility tends to reduce the fastest after the individuals are no longer using the internet in such heavy doses, with depression levels also dropping as face to face socialisation increases. Anxiety tends to be the last issue to reduce following such an intervention.

I am currently writing a book titled "ADJUSTED: What the research says about how to bring up emotionally well adjusted, resilient and competent children". If you would like to get your hands on an advanced copy just click here.

 

References

Chih-Hung Ko, et al, (2014) The exacerbation of depression, hostility, and social anxiety in the course of internet addiction among adolescents: a prospective study. Com- prehensive Psychiatry (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2014.05.003

Other papers

Calles JL Jr. (2007) Depression in children and adolescents. Prim Care 2007;34:243-58.

Constantine MG. (2006) Perceived family conflict, parental attachment, and depression in African American female adolescents. Cultur Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol 2006;12:697-709.

Crutzen R, et al (2011) Strategies to facilitate exposure to internet-delivered health behavior change interventions aimed at adolescents or young adults: a systematic review. Health Educ Behav 2011;38:49-62.

Ferguson CJ, & Kilburn J. (2009) The public health risks of media violence: a meta-analytic review. J Pediatr 2009;154:759-63.

Gentile DA et al. (2011) Pathological video game use among youths: a two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics 2011;127:e319-29.

Greydanus DE, & Greydanus MM. (2012) Internet use, misuse, and addiction in adolescents: current issues and challenges. Int J Adolesc Med Health 2012;24:283-89.

Ha JH, et al (2007) Depression and Internet addiction in adolescents. Psychopathology 2007;40:424-30.
Kitamura T, & Fujihara S. (2003) Understanding personality traits from early life experiences. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2003;57:323-31.

Ko CH, et al (2007) Factors predictive for incidence and remission of internet addiction in young adolescents: a prospective study. Cyberpsychol Behav 2007;10:545-51.

Ko CH, et al (2009) The associations between aggressive behaviors and internet addiction and online activities in adolescents. J Adolesc Health 2009;44:598-605.

Ko et al (2009) Predictive values of psychiatric symptoms for internet addiction in adolescents: a 2-year prospective study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2009;163:937-43.

Lam LT & Peng ZW. (2010) Effect of pathological use of the internet on adolescent mental health: a prospective study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2010;164:901-6.

Mythily S, Qiu S, & Winslow M. (2008) Prevalence and correlates of excessive internet use among youth in Singapore. Ann Acad Med Singapore 2008;37:9-14.

Norris ML. (2007) Adolescents and the internet. Paediatr Child Health 2007;12:211-16.

Park S, et al (2013) The association between problematic internet use and depression, suicidal ideation and bipolar disorder symptoms in Korean adolescents. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2013;47:153-9.

Prinstein MJ, et al (2005) Adolescent girls' interpersonal vulnerability to depressive symptoms: a longitudinal examination of reassurance-seeking and peer relationships. J Abnorm Psychol 2005;114:676-88.

Siomos KE, et al (2008) Internet addiction among Greek adolescent students. Cyberpsychol Behav 2008;11:653-7.

Yen JY, et al (2007). The comorbid psychiatric symptoms of Internet addiction: attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, social phobia, and hostility. J Adolesc Health 2007;41:93-6.

Yen JY, et al (2012) Social anxiety in online and real-life interaction and their associated factors. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw 2012;15:7-12.

Yen JY, et al (2011) Hostility in the real world and online: the effect of internet addiction, depression, and online activity. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw 2011;14:649-55.

Young KS. (1998) Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder. Cyberpsychol Behav 1998;1:237-44.

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Do controlling parents have any effect on their children's development?

Do controlling parents have any effect on their children's development?

Most parents try to provide a guiding hand as their children grow up with a mixture of control, support and encouragement. But as there isn't exactly a manual or formula for parenting it's often hard for parents to know what the best course of action is at times. As a father of five (4 girls and a boy) I often wondered whether we were being too hard, too soft,etc. However recent research is showing some interesting and more importantly useful ways forward.

One consistent question what is the ideal amount of control parents should exert over their children as they grow?

Now obviously that is going to depend on a lot of different things or variables. Things like how old the child is, how responsible the child is, what the situation or context is, what the attitude the parent has to the situation and their child for example.

An interesting study published this year in the Journal Parenting: Science and Practice looked at the effects of different levels of parental control on adolescents and in particular how parental control effects how well adjusted the adolescent is and how parental control might effect the childs' ability to regulate or control their own emotions.

The researchers, from five universities across the US and Canada* looked at the responses and outcomes of 206 adolescents (10 - 18 years old) and their parents in terms of reported levels of parental control (from both the adolescents and the parents), the levels of adolescent anger regulation, depression and aggressiveness.

The researchers found that the higher the level of parental control the lower the level of adjustment and flexibility the child was able to maintain. This was even more pronounced with adolescents who had emotion regulation problems to start with, which may be connected to the level of psychological control the parents exerted before the age of 10.

In effect the greater the level of psychological control parents exert on their children the less well adjusted they become. This is not however an argument for no control or laissez faire parenting. This also causes adjustment and emotion regulation problems.

 

References:

Barber, B. K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct.
Child Development, 67, 3296–3319. doi:10.2307/ 1131780

Barber, B. K., & Harmon, E. L. (2002). Violating the self: Parental psychological control of children and adoles-
cents. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents (pp.15–52). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10422-002

Buckner, J. C., Mezzacappa, E., & Beardslee, W. R. (2003). Characteristics of resilient youths living in poverty: The role of self-regulatory processes.
Development and Psychopathology,15, 139–162. doi:10.1017/ S0954579403000087

Cui, L. teal (2014) Parental Psychological Control and Adolescent Adjustment: The Role of Adolescent Emotion Regulation. Parenting: Science and Practice. 14:1, 47-67, DOI:10.1080/15295192.2014.880018

Han, Z. R., & Shaffer, A. (2013). The relation of parental emotion dysregulation to children's psychopathology
symptoms: The moderating role of child emotion dysregulation. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 44, 591–601. doi:10.1007/ s10578-012-0353-7

Kunz, J. H., & Grych, J. H. (2013). Parental psychological control and autonomy granting: Distinctions
and associations with child and family functioning. Parenting: Science and Practice, 13, 77–94. doi:10.1080/ 15295192.2012.709147

Pettit, G. S., & Laird, R. D. (2002). Psychological control and monitoring in early adolescent: The role of
parental involvement and earlier child adjustment. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents
(pp. 97–123). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10422-004

 

 

* Oklahoma State University, The University of Toronto, Oklahoma State University, Indiana University-Purdue University and The University of Pittsburgh

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Children's emotional problems associated with TV, Video and other media

Children's emotional problems associated with TV, Video and other media

The number do small children under five who have increasing exposure to audio visual media, such as TV, video, tablets and the like is growing. There also appears to be a growing trend for such media to be used as pasifers in as much as children end up watching TV whilst they are eating to keep them busy/quiet, as well as in the evening. In many households stories at bed time are via video and similar media instead of being read a book by a parent.

There is growing evidence about the harm these practices are having on the development of children.

There is a growing body of research showing the problems early viewing of media is having on children. For example a series of research studies have shown that exposure to television (TV), videos and similar media before 3 years of age is associated with later problems with language development, cognition and thinking, attention spans and attention deficit disorders, executive functioning such including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, planning, the execution of tasks and also later school achievement. The problem early years media exposure is considered to be so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children under the age of 2 should not have any access to media.

A new study published in Pediatrics this week adds to weight of this body of evidence by demonstrating that early years exposure to media is also linked to emotional problems for children, particularly with their ability to regulate their own emotions. The study by researchers from the Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, and the Seattle Children's Research Institute, University of Washington, looked at the outcomes for 7450 children aged between 9 months and 2 years old. They found that on average two year olds are watching 2.3 hours of media a day and as a result of this study they defined excessive media watching as 2 hours or more a day.

The researchers looked at a whole raft of factors to explain poor emotion regulation abilities in the infants and toddlers including wether a parent smoked, the marital status of the parent(s) single, married, divorced, employment status, number of siblings etc. However the one consistent finding they had for poor emotion regulation ability was media exposure. Even a mild increase of just 10-15 minutes extra a day had an impact on the ability of the infant to deal with their own emotions.

Now at the moment it is not clear why this is the case nor exactly what long term effect this is having, but watching TV and video certainly is having a significant negative effect on a child's ability to regulate their own emotions. We do know that the habits formed at these early ages can often last a lifetime and the habit of passive media watching and low levels of emotion regulation ability are habits to avoid.

Reference

Radesky, J.S. Et al (2014) Infant Self-Regulation and Early Childhood Media Exposure. Pediatrics April 2014. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-2367

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5 Factors that promote emotional resilience in children

5 Factors that promote emotional resilience in children

There are a series of factors currently emerging from studies which promote the development of emotional resilience in children. A number of these studies have looked at children who have overcome adversity, such as the death of parents, growing up in a war zone and children who have been enveloped in a natural disaster for example. A now well known analysis from researchers at the University of Minnesota in 1990 showed that children are much more likely to recover or bounce back if they:

  1. Have a positive relationship with at least one competent adult,
  2. Are good learners,
  3. Are good problem solvers
  4. Are engaging and engage with other people
  5. Have their own areas of competence that are valued by them-self (self-worth) and others (value).

We know from our own work into the development of emotional literature (the ability to recognise and perceive emotions in themselves and others), that children who are encouraged to ask questions and develop autonomous learning and problem solving skills (as opposed to being taught) tend to be more emotionally agile, able to regulate their own emotions better, suffer from less anxiety related issues and are more resilient. Certainly there are positive indications that developing critical and creative thinking skills are two further factors in the development of emotional resilience. The people who tend to do the best at dealing with their anxiety on The Fear Course those with reasonable reasoning skills.

These five factors are not the only requirements for the development of emotional resilience. I will review those in a forthcoming blog.

We are putting together a guide for developing emotional resilience in children. If you would like to get a copy pop your details in the boxes below and we will let you know as soon as it is ready.

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References

Masten, A.S. et al (1990) Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology / Volume 2 / Issue 04 / October 1990, pp 425-444

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