1. Positive father-child relationship can moderate negative effects of maternal depression

    May 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Bar-Ilan University press release:

    Maternal depression negatively impacts children’s emotional and cognitive development and family life. Studies have shown that a home in which the mother suffers from depression exhibits lower cohesion, warmth, and expressiveness and higher conflict, rigidity, and affectionless control. Since 15-18% of women in industrial societies and up to 30% in developing countries suffer from maternal depression, it is of clinical and public health concern to understand the effects of maternal depression on children’s development.

    A family affair

    A new study, published in Development and Psychopathology, by Prof. Ruth Feldman and colleagues at the Department of Psychology and Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University has, for the first time, examined whether fathering can moderate the negative effects of maternal depression on family-level functioning. The results of this study are the first to describe the family process by using direct observations of mothering, fathering, and family patterns in homes where mothers suffer clinical depression during the child’s first years of life.

    Feldman conducted a longitudinal study of a carefully selected sample of married or cohabiting chronically depressed women with no comorbid contextual risk, who were repeatedly assessed for maternal depression across the first year after childbirth and when the child reached age six. The families were home-visited when the child reached preschool age in order to observe and videotape mother-child, father-child, and both-parent-child interactions.

    Sense and sensitivity

    During the first years of life, sensitivity marks the most critical component of the parental style that affects the child’s emotional and social development. Sensitive parents are attuned to their child’s needs and attend to them in a responsive and nonintrusive manner. Parents who act intrusively tend to take over tasks that children are, or could be, performing independently, imposing their own agenda without regard for the child.

    In Feldman’s study depressed mothers exhibited low sensitivity and high intrusiveness, and children displayed lower social engagement during interactions with them. Partners of depressed mothers also showed low sensitivity, high intrusiveness, and provided little opportunities for child social engagement, so that the family unit was less cohesive, harmonious, warm, and collaborative. However, when fathers were sensitive, nonintrusive, and engaged children socially, maternal depression no longer predicted low family cohesion.

    Feldman: “When fathers rise to the challenge of co-parenting with a chronically depressed mother, become invested in the father-child relationship despite little modeling from their wives, and form a sensitive, nonintrusive, and reciprocal relationship with the child that fosters his/her social involvement and participation, fathering can buffer the spillover from maternal depression to the family atmosphere.”

    According to Feldman, because rates of maternal depression appear to increase each decade, and paternal involvement in child care is constantly increasing in industrial societies, it is critical to address the fathers’ potential contribution to family welfare by providing interventions for the development of a sensitive parenting style and other compensatory mechanisms, in order to enhance their role as buffers of the negative effects of maternal depression.

    This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the Simms-Mann Foundation, and the Irving B. Harris Foundation.


  2. Study looks at what drives rejection amongst children

    May 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Children learn how to make friends and interact with others in the first few years of school. Unfortunately, rejection is part of daily life in a classroom and we can all remember the bitter feeling of being left out by classmates. Some children suffer widespread rejection at school and this can this can have a long-term effect.

    In an effort to reduce negative relationships, research has traditionally focused on the behaviour of the disliked child, asking, ‘What did they do to warrant rejection?’ Blaming rejection on a child’s behaviour, however, does not explain why an aggressive child might sometimes be a popular classmate. In addition, the bad behaviour of a rejected child may not actually be the cause, but rather the consequence, of being rejected.

    New research, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, approaches this subject in a different way. It asked the children doing the rejecting, the ‘rejecters’, for the reasons they disliked certain children. The study revealed the act of rejection is complex — the behaviour of the rejected child is only partly, or not at all, to blame.

    “We find that the rejected child’s behaviour does not lead directly or inevitably to rejection,” says Francisco Juan García Bacete, a Professor in the Department of Developmental, Educational and Social Psychology and Methodology, at the Jaume I University, Spain. “Instead, what actually leads to rejection are the rejecters’ interpretations of the child’s behaviour, and whether they think it will have a negative impact on themselves or their social group.”

    Professor Garcia Bacete and his co-authors interviewed hundreds of 5- to 7-year olds and asked them to describe who, in their class, they liked least and why. The researchers were left with a long list of reasons, such as “I don’t like playing football,” “He’s boring,” “He’s new,” and “She cheats,” to sort through to find common themes. To do this, they used a method called ‘Grounded Theory‘.

    “Grounded Theory starts from the reasons provided by the children and, by constantly comparing them, categories emerge that explain differences between the motives for rejection,” describes Professor Garcia Bacete. “So rather than forcing the data to be grouped under preconceived headings, we let the data speak for itself.”

    He continues, “Most of the reasons could be grouped under what the rejected child does, says or tries, such as aggression, dominance, problematic social and school behaviours, and disturbance of wellbeing. However, we also noticed that these reasons came with context — specifically, which classmates or groups were involved in the rejection and the frequency it happened.”

    It became clear they had discovered that rejection does not appear to be the direct result of the behaviour of the disliked child, but whether the rejecters saw this behaviour as harmful to the needs of themselves or their friends.

    The Grounded Theory method also revealed two new categories of reasons that do not usually appear in traditional rejection studies — preference and unfamiliarity. Professor Garcia Bacete explains, “Preference highlights the power of particular likes and dislikes in that it strengthens personal identities. Sometimes it manifests in a negative context, for example, when prejudices are shared, which reinforces the feeling of belonging to a group.” He continues, “Reasons governed by unfamiliarity highlight our tendency towards choosing and doing what has already been preferred and done, or the fear and mistrust to what is unknown or unfamiliar.”

    The authors hope this study will provide a solid framework for developing programs to tackle rejection. “This research highlights the importance of teaching children how to be aware of and tackle negative reputations, stereotypes and prejudices, as well as understanding the consequences of their behaviour on themselves and others. Positive relationships should be encouraged — you should respect others, not just your friends.” concludes Professor García Bacete.

    Further research hopes to delve deeper and examine if there are particular reasons that lead to persistent rejection. Additionally, research should focus on the relationship between the rejecter and rejected child, examining how other children may influence the reasons for rejecting a peer.


  3. Exposure to psychological domestic abuse most damaging to children’s wellbeing

    by Ashley

    From the University of Limerick press release:

    Exposure to psychological abuse between parents is more damaging to children’s wellbeing as they grow older than physical domestic violence, according to new research carried out at University of Limerick (UL), Ireland.

    A scientific paper by UL’s Catherine Naughton, Aisling O’Donnell and Orla Muldoon was recently published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. It illustrates that growing up in a home with psychological abuse has longer-term effects on the wellbeing of young people than domestic violence.

    Ms Naughton’s research investigated how children’s exposure to domestic violence and abuse between their parents affects them as young people.

    Psychological abuse can include, name-calling, intimidation, isolation, manipulation and control.

    According to Ms Naughton, “What this research highlights is that growing up in a home with domestic abuse, in particular the psychological dimension of it, has long-term consequences for the wellbeing of young people.”

    “Our research found that young people (aged 17 to 25 years) reported experiencing two distinct yet interrelated types of domestic abuse in their families of origin: physical which includes hitting, punching, kicking and use of a weapon; and, psychological abuse including arguing, name-calling or behaviour that is intimidating, isolating, manipulating or controlling. Importantly, our findings show that it was young people’s exposure to the psychological dimension of domestic abuse, which had a detrimental impact on their psychological wellbeing. Exposure to the physical dimension did not have any additional negative effect on wellbeing,” Ms Naughton stated.

    “We know that social support is important for recovery from traumatic childhood events. However, our findings evidence that exposure to high levels of psychological domestic abuse was associated with a decrease in young people’s satisfaction with their social support. On the other hand, we also found that exposure to high levels of physical domestic violence has a protective effect in terms of satisfaction with social support for those also exposed to high levels of intra-parental psychological abuse. When children were exposed to physical violence in the home as well as psychological domestic abuse, they were more likely to be happier with the social support they were able to access. Psychological domestic abuse when it occurred alone seems to be the most damaging, perhaps because people are unable to recognise and speak out about it,” she continued.

    “This research examines the impact of psychological abuse in the home on Irish children as they grow older, but it also shows there is a need for more research in the area to assess the impacts of exposure to all types of domestic violence and abuse on younger children,” Ms Naughton concluded.


  4. Dad’s involvement with baby early on associated with boost in mental development

    May 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Imperial College London press release:

    Fathers who interact more with their children in their first few months of life could have a positive impact on their baby’s cognitive development.

    In a study, published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University looked at how fathers interacted with their babies at three months of age and measured the infants’ cognitive development more than a year later.

    They found that babies whose fathers were more engaged and active when playing with them in their initial months performed better in cognitive tests at two years of age. The researchers say that while a number of factors are critical in a child’s development, the relatively unexplored link between quality father-infant interactions at a young age may be an important one.

    Professor Paul Ramchandani, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial and who led the research, said: “Even as early as three months, these father-child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before.”

    In the study, researchers recorded video of parents interacting with their children, with mothers and fathers playing with their babies without toys, at three months, and then during a book-reading session at two years of age. The videos were then observed independently by trained researchers, with different researchers at three months and 24 months grading the fathers on their interactions.

    At two years of age, they scored the baby’s cognitive development using the standardised Bayley mental development index (MDI) — which involved tasks such as recognising colours and shapes.

    After analysing data for 128 fathers, and accounting for factors such as their income and age, they found a positive correlation between the degree to which dads engaged with their babies and how the children scored on the tests. Dads with more positive outlooks were also more likely to have babies who performed better on the MDI scales.

    What’s more, the positive link between involved dads and higher infant MDI scores were seen equally whether the child was a boy or a girl, countering the idea that play time with dad is more important for boys than girls, at an early age.

    Dr Vaheshta Sethna from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said: “We also found that children interacting with sensitive, calm and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of two showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills. This suggests that reading activities and educational references may support cognitive and learning development in these children.”

    Dr Sethna added: “Our findings highlight the importance of supporting fathers to interact more positively with their children in early infancy. Specifically, considering interventions which encourage increased father-infant engagement with shared positive emotions, and book sharing sessions supportive of cognitive development.”

    While the study provides a window into the effects of dad’s involvement with baby, there were a number of limitations. Parents recruited to the study were drawn from a relatively well educated population. In addition, the measure of interactions were taken from relatively short videos, so may not represent how they interact in other situations.

    The researchers are now working on a trial based on helping parents with their interactions with their children and then giving them positive feedback to help them deal with challenging behaviour.

    Professor Ramchandani concluded: “For those fathers who are more engaged it may be that there is a lot more positive stuff going on in their lives generally. That might be the reason for the link, but we can’t be sure of that. All we can say is that there is a signal here, and it seems to be an important one.

    “The clear message for new fathers here is to get stuck in and play with your baby. Even when they’re really young playing and interacting with them can have a positive effect.”


  5. How focusing on parent-child relationships can prevent child maltreatment

    May 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

    Child abuse and neglect is a widespread and costly problem in the United States. Approximately 3.9 million children were subjects of maltreatment reports to child welfare agencies in 2013. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child abuse and neglect cost the U.S. $124 billion in 2012.

    In order to help children facing maltreatment, researchers and clinicians first needed to address the heart of the problem. The relationship between the parent and child is key, argues Kristin Valentino, William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, in an article published recently in a special section of the journal Child Development.

    More than 90 percent of maltreated children are victimized by one or both parents, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “My position is that child maltreatment, in most cases, can best be understood as a problem in the parent-child relationship,” Valentino says. “Thus, we should focus on enhancing the parent-child relationship in our intervention efforts.”

    Two broad kinds of relational interventions between parents and children are available to researchers and clinicians. In her article, Valentino examines brief models and long-term models, both designed to improve not only how well parents understand their children and how to react to them, but also the child’s attachment security. The latter plays a critical role in supporting positive development, including coping skills, emotional and behavioral functioning, peer relationships and even physical health.

    Children who are neglected, abused or otherwise mistreated often develop emotional problems, Valentino says: “Up to 80 to 90 percent of maltreated children develop what is known as disorganized attachment. This classification is one type of insecure attachment and is associated with the worst outcomes including severe problems in emotion regulation, school achievement and the development of psychopathology.”

    Valentino reviews the pros and cons of brief and long-term intervention methods, and conclusively recommends a tiered approach wherein families are provided with brief interventions first, and subsequent long-term approaches if needed.

    “Given limitations on resources and funds to support treatment in the child welfare system, this approach would allow us to provide services to more families, and to identify families who should be referred to more intensive programs in a targeted manner,” Valentino says.

    Valentino is a clinical and developmental psychologist who conducts research with families through Notre Dame’s Shaw Center for Children and Families. Her current research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of a brief relational intervention for maltreated preschool-aged children and their mothers in a randomized clinical trial design.


  6. Study links flower pesticides to neurobehavioral effects in children

    by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    Ecuador is the third largest producer of cut flowers in the world, primarily roses, many of which are destined to be sold for Mother’s Day. The industry employs more than 103,000 people, and relies heavily on agricultural pesticides.

    In a paper published in the May 2017 issue of the journal NeuroToxicology, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Ecuador and Minnesota, have found altered short-term neurological behaviors in children associated with a peak pesticide spraying season linked to the Mother’s Day flower harvest. This study examined children who did not work in agriculture but who lived in agricultural communities in Ecuador.

    “Our findings are among the first in non-worker children to suggest that a peak pesticide use period (the Mother’s Day flower production) may transiently affect neurobehavioral performance,” said first author Jose R. Suarez-Lopez, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

    “Children examined sooner after the flower harvest displayed lower performance on most measures, such as attention, self-control, visuospatial processing (the ability to perceive and interact with our visual world) and sensorimotor (eye-hand coordination) compared to children examined later in a time of lower flower production and pesticide use.”

    “This discovery is novel because it shows that pesticide spray seasons can produce short-term alterations in neurobehavioral performance in addition to the long-term alterations that have been previously described. This is troublesome because the altered mental functions observed are essential for children’s learning, and in May-July, students typically take their end-of-year exams. If their learning and performance abilities are affected in this period, they may graduate from high school with lower scores which may hinder their ability to access higher education or obtain a job.”

    Early exposure to commonly applied agricultural pesticides is associated with neurobehavioral delays in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pesticide exposure has been linked to altered development of reflexes and psychomotor and mental function in newborns. Boys appear more susceptible than girls.

    Suarez-Lopez, who is principal investigator of the ESPINA study, an on-going, long-term study of environmental pollutants and child development in Ecuador, said past animal research had suggested that fluctuating levels of pesticide exposure might also produce corresponding, short-term neurobehavioral effects.

    He and colleagues tested 308 children, ages four to nine, living in floricultural communities in Ecuador (but who did not actually work in agriculture themselves) prior to peak Mother’s Day flower production and within 100 days after harvest. Behavior and blood tests were conducted.

    Organophosphate-based insecticides, commonly used to treat flowers for pests before export, inhibit an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE) that regulates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter vital to promoting communications between nerve cells in the brain and body. The insecticides are also directly toxic to neurons and supporting cells called glia. In previous research, Suarez-Lopez and colleagues had shown that lower AChE activity is associated with lower attention, inhibitory control and memory scores, again affecting boys more than girls.

    The authors note that the study was cross-sectional, collecting and analyzing observational data on a representative population for a specific point in time. “Our findings need to be replicated in studies of children with assessments conducted before, during and after peak exposure periods,” said Suarez-Lopez. “But given the evidence thus far, and the potential for pesticide exposure to alter both short- and long-term learning abilities, cognition, social interactions and overall well-being, taking additional precautions to shield children from exposure is certainly advised.”

    Co-authors include: Harvey Checkoway, Wael K. Al-Delaimy, Sheila Gahagan, UC San Diego; and David R. Jacobs, Jr., University of Minnesota.


  7. Study suggests pet dogs help kids feel less stressed

    May 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Florida press release:

    Pet dogs provide valuable social support for kids when they’re stressed, according to a study by researchers from the University of Florida, who were among the first to document stress-buffering effects of pets for children.

    Darlene Kertes and colleagues tested the commonly held belief that pet dogs provide social support for kids using a randomized controlled study — the gold standard in research.

    “Many people think pet dogs are great for kids but scientists aren’t sure if that’s true or how it happens,” Kertes said. Kertes reasoned that one way this might occur is by helping children cope with stress. “How we learn to deal with stress as children has lifelong consequences for how we cope with stress as adults.”

    For their study, recently published in the journal Social Development, the researchers recruited approximately 100 pet-owning families, who came to their university laboratory with their dogs. To tap children’s stress, the children completed a public speaking task and mental arithmetic task, which are known to evoke feelings of stress and raise the stress hormone cortisol, and simulates real-life stress in children’s lives. The children were randomly assigned to experience the stressor with their dog present for social support, with their parent present, or with no social support.

    “Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out,” Kertes said . “Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support.”

    Samples of saliva was also collected before and after the stressor to check children’s cortisol levels, a biological marker of the body’s stress response. Results showed that for kids who underwent the stressful experience with their pet dogs, children’s cortisol level varied depending on the nature of the interaction of children and their pets.

    “Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less,” said Kertes, an assistant professor in the psychology department of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”

    The children in the study were between 7 to 12 years old.

    “Middle childhood is a time when children’s social support figures are expanding beyond their parents, but their emotional and biological capacities to deal with stress are still maturing,” Kertes explained. “Because we know that learning to deal with stress in childhood has lifelong consequences for emotional health and well-being, we need to better understand what works to buffer those stress responses early in life.”


  8. Three-year-olds understand, value obligations of joint commitment

    by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    The ability to engage in joint actions is a critical step toward becoming a cooperative human being. In particular, forming a commitment with a partner to achieve a goal that one cannot achieve alone is important for functioning in society. Previous research has shown that children begin collaborating with others between ages 2 and 3 years. However, it’s less clear whether they understand the concept of joint commitments with binding obligations. A new study looked at this phenomenon and suggests that children as young as 3 understand and value the obligations that accompany a joint commitment – and that they resent a partner who breaks a commitment for selfish reasons.

    The study, by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (in Germany) and Duke University, appears in the journal Child Development.

    “Collaborating with joint goals that structure individuals’ roles in pursuit of shared rewards is a uniquely human form of social interaction,” explains Margarita Svetlova, visiting assistant professor of psychology at Duke University, who contributed to the study. “In this study, we wanted to see what children understand about the specific roles each of them must play to achieve joint success in an interdependent task, and how they react to partners who fail to do their part for various reasons.”

    Researchers presented 72 pairs of 3-year-olds (for a total of 144 children) with a collaborative task – pulling on a rope together to move a block toward a set of marbles to get a reward; the children were tested in same-sex pairs and agreed verbally to play the game together. The children were predominantly middle-class and White, and they lived in a medium-sized German city.

    During the task, one of the partners – who had been trained before engaging in the task – stopped cooperating with the other, either leaving the collaborative task to receive an individual reward (the selfish condition), stopping because he or she operated the toy inefficiently (the ignorant condition), or quitting because the toy broke (the accidental condition). Researchers then observed children’s reactions to their partner’s defection and what they did next: Some tattled, others became emotionally aroused, and still others taught their partner how to engage in the task.

    The study found that 3-year-olds could coordinate their actions with others in joint tasks, and that they understood these tasks were collaborative commitments and protested when a partner defected selfishly and knowingly. Children were naturally frustrated when the task was interrupted for any reason, but they reacted more strongly and with more resentment–tattling on their partner and becoming more aroused–when they thought their partner had broken the joint commitment (the selfish condition). “This illustrates children’s growing understanding of norms of cooperative co-existence and the obligations they entail,” explains Svetlova.

    When a partner’s defection happened because of a reason outside his or her control (the accidental condition) or because the partner didn’t know how to do the task (the ignorant condition), the children were less upset, the researchers found. In the latter condition, children were more likely to teach their partner how to do the task and less likely to protest the interruption.

    “The outcome of an unsuccessful collaboration was the same in all three conditions, but the children’s reactions were drastically different,” adds Svetlova. “That tells us that the children in our study correctly inferred and addressed the underlying intentions of their partners.”

    “Our findings have important implications for parents and preschool teachers,” suggests Ulrike Kachel, Ph.D. student at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who led the study. “Young children have a stronger foundation in terms of their understanding of joint commitments than has previously been understood. Those working with children in the home and in classrooms can build on this foundation by incorporating joint activities, such as cooperative independent tasks, into children’s interactions.”


  9. Study suggests first year of grade school sharpens kids’ attention skills

    May 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the UC Berkeley press release:

    The first year of elementary school markedly boosts a child’s attentiveness, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

    The study, led by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, shows that children who transition earlier to a formal school environment learn to be more focused and less impulsive than their peers at play-based preschools. The findings are published today in the online issue of the journal Psychological Science.

    “These results demonstrate for the first time how environmental context shapes the development of brain mechanisms in 5-year-olds transitioning into school,” said study co-author Silvia Bunge, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.

    Researchers hypothesized that a controlled educational setting in which young children must learn to sit still, follow directions and avoid distractions would boost certain cognitive skills, such as staying on task. The experiment, conducted in Germany where preschool is referred to as “kindergarten,” proved their theory.

    “Our results indicate that the structured learning environment of school has a positive effect on the development of behavioral control,” said study lead author Garvin Brod, a researcher at the German Institute for International Educational Research.

    For the study, researchers used computerized tests and brain imaging to track the cognitive performance of 62 children aged 5. In comparing the results of tests conducted at the beginning and end of a school and preschool year, the study found that the children who had gone to school showed greater improvement than their preschool peers at maintaining focus and following rules.

    Moreover, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of their brains during an attention control task showed the schoolgoers to have a more active right parietal cortex, which supports attentiveness, among other cognitive skills.

    While the findings reveal new information in the ongoing debate over the developmentally appropriate age to start school, the researchers are not necessarily advocating for early school start ages.

    “Those results should not be taken to mean that the elementary school setting is necessarily better for young children’s development than play-based early schooling,” Bunge said, citing research that shows children do well in hands-on, interactive learning environments.

    Moreover, there is enormous developmental variation across children of the same age, she said.


  10. Study suggests school intervention programs may help with mental health awareness

    May 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queen Mary University of London press release:

    School-aged children can be taught to better their mental health through intervention programmes delivered at school, suggests a new study carried out in east London and led by an academic at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

    The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, investigated whether a new psychological programme, which was integrated into the school curriculum could promote resilience — the ability to recover after setbacks — and prevent depression in 11-12 year old girls.

    It found that children who received the new programme called SPARK increased significantly in their self-reported resilience, and their depression symptoms decreased right after the programme.

    “This research shows that it is possible to promote psychological well-being in middle childhood through an integrated school-based intervention programme informed by concepts of positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy,” said first author Dr Michael Pluess from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, who led the research while previously based at University of East London.

    The study was conducted from 2010 to 2011 in a secondary girls-only state school in East London. Almost 400 girls participated in the research, reporting on their resilience and depression symptoms throughout the study.

    Developed specifically for deprived neighbourhoods, the SPARK Resilience Programme is based on established methods of cognitive behavioural therapy and concepts from the field of positive psychology. It provides students with tools to identify stressful situations, evaluate automatic responses and learn to control negative behavioural reactions.

    “Rather than focusing on preventing psychological problems in a few students, this programme aims at strengthening the psychological resilience of all children,” said Dr Pluess.

    Organised around the SPARK acronym, the programme teaches children to break down their responses to stressful situations into five components: Situation, Perception, Autopilot, Reaction and Knowledge.

    To help students understand these, the programme uses the metaphor of “parrots of perception,” which represent common negative thoughts or ways that our mind convinces us of things that are not really true. The students are taught to challenge their interpretation of adverse situations and consider other alternatives by putting their parrots “on trial.”

    The programme also introduces children to the skills of assertiveness and problem solving, and helps them build their “resilience muscles” through identifying their strengths, social support networks, sources of positive emotions and reflection on previous experiences of resilience and self-efficacy.

    The researchers found that 12 months after the programme, depression symptoms were back to the levels before the intervention, which suggests that children may need booster sessions after 12 months in addition to the initial programme.

    “Our results suggest that it is important to repeat the content of the programme throughout the school year given that some of the positive treatment effects appeared to fade out after six months,” he added.

    The team say that while more research is needed to investigate the positive effects of such interventions, their results show that short interventions such as the SPARK Resilience Programme can have positive effects for the well-being and mental health of children.