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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Using Resiliency Theory to Promote Positive Development in Youth

Alternative to Addressing Maladaptive Behaviors

When working with youth of all ages, clinicians often focus on what is going wrong and what problem behaviors the child is displaying. Clinicians may look at what distress the child is experiencing themselves or what distress they are causing for others.

While it is important to address maladaptive behaviors when working with youth, especially since this is often the primary cause of why a parent would bring the child in to receive services, there is another approach to helping improve a child’s current and future quality of life.

Resiliency Theory

By focusing on strengths and approaching your work with youth from the perspective of resiliency theory, you can help a child to live a better quality of life despite what challenges or adversity they may face.

Resiliency theory focuses on taking a strengths-based approach. It is based on the idea that, despite the adversity that some youth face, some children have better outcomes than others.

Impact of Adversity

One area of adversity that a child may experience is having a disability. Some children with disabilities can grow up to experience good self-esteem, stable relationships, and overall positive mental health.

However, others grow up to experience poor self-esteem, unstable or unhealthy relationships, poor mental health, or even things like drug or alcohol use or criminal activity.

Factors that Increase Resiliency

By exploring resiliency when working with youth, you can look at the positive factors that help to increase the chances that the child will have more positive outcomes later in life. For instance, things like contextual, social, and individual factors can play a role in how resilient a child becomes despite experiencing adversity.

Promotive Factors

The factors that help a child to become more resilient are called promotive factors. The two main types of promotive factors are assets and resources.

  • Some examples of assets include internal experiences, such as self-efficacy and self-esteem.
  • Some examples of resources include external experiences, such as support from parents, mentors, programs for youth that teach the child specific skills, and so on.

Both assets and resources can help promote healthy development in the child.

ABA Perspective on Promotive Factors

Speaking from a traditional applied behavior analysis approach, these promotive factors include both private events and events that occur within the individual’s environment.

Also, ABA practitioners have the opportunity to increase the promotive factors that a child experiences.

ABA Practitioners Can Support ‘Assets’ in Youth

ABA practitioners can help shape private events with various cognitive-behavioral methods or through use of acceptance and commitment therapy based techniques.

As mentioned, one example of an asset is self-efficacy which “refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997).” ABA practitioners can help a child to believe in him or herself and their ability to display certain behaviors through focusing on the child’s strengths, helping the child be successful through use of things like breaking a goal into smaller parts, using shaping, etc.

ABA Practitioners Can Support ‘Resources’ in Youth

ABA practitioners can also provide youth programs to teach the child helpful skills. They can provide parent training and support programs to encourage healthy parent-child interactions.

Challenges Can Be Helpful

One framework developed based on resiliency theory is known as the challenge model. In this model, it is thought that youth who experience some level of challenges can actually become more resilient because of these challenges.

So, by being exposed to modest levels of challenge or stressful situations, a child may be better at handling challenging or adverse experiences in the future and, therefore, will be more likely to become more resilient in the long run.

It is important, though, that the challenging experience is challenging enough to provide a learning opportunity for the child to develop coping skills and other skills necessary to manage the situation. However, the experience should not be too overwhelming that it exhausts the child’s resources and does not teach them a helpful skill or lesson.

For example, a child who encounters a conflict between himself and his peer can improve his resiliency by successfully resolving the conflict. This can help the child to be better prepared to handle conflict in the future which reduces the chances of maladaptive behaviors like aggression and increases the use of conflict management skills.


Zimmerman M. A. (2013). Resiliency theory: a strengths-based approach to research and practice for adolescent health. Health education & behavior : the official publication of the Society for Public Health Education, 40(4), 381–383. doi:10.1177/1090198113493782

Using Resiliency Theory to Promote Positive Development in Youth

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2020). Using Resiliency Theory to Promote Positive Development in Youth. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from