The Resilient Child

By Tammy Ruggles, BSW, MA

Will suffered horrendous physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his stepfather. Today he is a responsible, caring, non-abusing father and surgical nurse.

Carrie was sexually abused for years by her biological father and ran away from home. Today she is the mother of two little girls with a stable marriage and good teaching career.

Aaron was a troubled juvenile delinquent who was shuffled from foster home to foster home. Today he works as the director of a treatment center in the juvenile justice system.

We’ve all read the statistics: Most abused children grow up to do the same to their own, and live chaotic, dysfunctional lives, often drowning in a world of alcohol, drugs, and incarceration.

But not all.

What is it about Will, Carrie, and Aaron that helped them beat the odds?

Some call them resilient children. These are the children, who, in spite of the data that says they will repeat the abuse that was inflicted on them, became nurturing, positive, productive people. They don’t abuse their children, they do contribute to society, they do live fruitful and meaningful lives.

Who is the resilient child?

Though there is no strict profile, the hallmarks of the resilient child include:

1. The presence and influence of at least one supportive person in his or her life.

(In Will’s case it was his grandmother, who sat for him during his first year of life, and then became a relative placement for him when he was removed from his parents).

(In Carrie’s case it was “Aunt Susie”, who operated a shelter for runaways and gave her the love and understanding she never had at home).

(In Aaron’s case it was a teacher, who was his role model, mentor, and cheerleader).

2. Hope and optimism in the face of adversity. Resilient children appear to have an enthusiasm for life that can’t be extinguished. Their positive outlook isn’t unrealistic or “denial”, but does seem unlikely given their history of abuse and/or neglect.

3. A personality that is pleasant, active, social, nurturing, and competitive. These are the children you see helping others on the playground or school cafeteria.

4. Possession of problem-solving skills and an eagerness to learn and succeed. These children seek solutions and like to carry out expected and assigned tasks. They also communicate their wants and needs.

5. See themselves as victors instead of victims, and strive to improve. These are the children who take responsibility for mistakes they make, accept them, and move on.

6. Has a friend, hobby, or interest that he or she turns to in troubled times, like caring for a pet, reading, playing the piano, stamp collecting, etc. These are the children who maximizes their potential and uses their skills or talents to deal with adversity and get ahead in life.

Although we can’t ignore the statistics that predict the repeated patterns of abuse, neither can we ignore resilient children. We should identify, foster, and celebrate the child who has the tools to bounce back. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be that one person who makes the difference in a child’s life.

Tammy Ruggles lives in a small town in Kentucky. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work, and a Master’s in Adult Ed/Counseling, with over ten years’ experience as a mental health, hospice, and child/adult protection social worker.

Additional Resources:

Raising Resilient Kids:

Northwest Educational Laboratory:

Eisenhower National Clearinghouse:,00.shtm

Child And Family Resiliency Research Programme:

Visit and bookmark Tammy’s WebPage: