Few would argue against these being challenging times.  Almost all of us–either individually or collectively–are staring adversity in the face daily and seeking ways to thrive in this difficult period. A 32-year longitudinal study of children from ‘at risk’ backgrounds may provide some insights to help us overcome adversity and learn to thrive.

The study of almost 700 children found that not all at-risk children reacted to their trying circumstances in the same way. While two-thirds of them followed the usual trajectory and ‘developed serious learning or behavior problems,’ one-third overcame the adversities of childhood environments and developed into ‘competent, confident, and caring young adults.’ While for some of there was an element of luck involved, the factors that set the children who thrived apart from the others were mostly psychological.

The children who displayed resilience tended to be more autonomous and independent. They would actively seek out new experiences and used whatever skills they had effectively. Most importantly, the more resilient children believed they and not their circumstances were responsible for their achievements. In other words, the children from ‘at risk’ environments who overcame adversity and thrived saw, not their circumstances but themselves as the ‘orchestrators of their fates’.

In delving further into the perspectives, beliefs, and behaviors of the ‘comeback kids’ the researchers found that they:

  • saw failure, not as a reason to give up, but rather as part of the journey.
  • saw setbacks as learning opportunities.
  • were willing to work–and work hard.
  • while fiercely independent, they sought the help they needed to succeed.
  • recognized and developed the skills necessary for their success.
  • surrounded themselves with good people.  
  • were willing to ‘give back’ to others as they recognized their success was not achieved alone and consequently were willing to help others who needed help.   

Herein lie valuable lessons for us all, but especially for those facing the challenges of a setback and looking to overcome and make a comeback.


Hudson, S. (2016). Overcoming Adversity. Policy, 32(3), 54–57.