8 Keys to Thriving: A Wise Poor Mom’s Friend

dart board 6In business, whenever you want to influence someone, it pays to start with a clear statement of what you want that person to think.  Then you choose what you can (truthfully) say and do that will result in them thinking exactly that.  This makes you effective and efficient because your actions are focused on the outcome you want.

Silicon Valley YMCA’s Project Cornerstone uses this approach to help parents and teachers influence youths in ways that promote their success.   The program provides easy-to-follow advice that is specific to each child’s age.

What is Project Cornerstone?

A whole county right in the heart of Silicon Valley found that most of  its young people  “were missing the positive relationships, opportunities, values, and skills— known collectively as “developmental assets”—that provide the foundation for a healthy, successful future”.  Research indicated that the more of these “developmental assets that young people possess, the more likely they are to avoid risky behaviors and engage in positive, healthy activities”. So, 14 years ago the city  of San Jose established Project Cornerstone to build up the cornerstone of its future, its children.  The city and its partners* developed, applied and enhanced the tools over time by working with parents and with teachers.

Eight Keys and How to Use Them

8keys smlThe program identified 8 things that are “Keys to Thriving”.  For each of those, they provide:

  • A statement that children feel/believe if they get enough of that “key” to thrive.
  • A simple 2-page “Ideas for Parents” document with tips on how to foster that belief in children of different ages from newborns through 18 years of age!

Busy and stressed low-income mothers can use these tools to become more conscious parents; they can identify and direct their own attention to specific the areas which are missing or underdeveloped in their child’s life.

Below are the “keys” and the desired feeling/belief statement.  Click on any of the 8 Keys to Thriving to see its downloadable Ideas For Parents sheet.

1.  Support

What the young person should feel:  I mean something to the people in my world.

2.  Empowerment

What the young person should feel:  I make a difference in the world.

3.  Boundaries and Expectations

What the young person should feel:  I know what’s expected of me and what behaviors are “in bounds” and “out of bounds.”

4. Constructive Use of Time

What the young person should feel:  I have balance in my life between activities that challenge me and activities that refresh me.

5.  Commitment to Learning

What the young person should feel:  I like to learn new things.

6.  Positive Values

What the young person should feel:  I try my best to “do the right thing,” and I believe it’s important to help others.

7.  Social Competencies

What the young person should feel:  I know how to make good choices and build positive relationships.

8.  Positive Identity

What the young person should feel:  I feel good about myself and I have a bright future.

 smile boy 2

A lot of other great information and tools are on the 8 Keys to Thriving Youth page and the rest of the Project Cornerstone website.



* One of their partners is a company called the Search Institute, which developed many of their tools including the 8 Keys materials.


Great Summary of Research on Preventing Children’s Problems


This 1991 paper “Fostering Resiliency in Kids: Protective Factors in the Family, School and Community” by Bonnie Benard of the
University of Minnesota, does a great service:  It frames up decades of research studies on what “protects” children from negative behaviors and outcomes.  It poses a very valuable way of understanding what the child, the family, the school and the community contribute to resilience.  It is well worth reading.  Here are just a few insights from it.

Taking a System Perspective

“If a child’s major risks lie in the family system, such as growing up in an alcoholic, abusive, or schizophrenic home, many of the factors identified as protective will derive from the school or community environments. Likewise, when a child’s major
risks come from the community system–usually the condition of living in poverty as over one- fourth of the children in the United States now do– protective factor research has usually examined the role that the family and school systems play in the development of resiliency”

Maximizing resiliency in youth requires building the traits listed above in children, families, schools and communities:  “It is only at this intersystem level–and only through intersystem collaboration within our communities–that we can build a broad enough, intense enough network of protection for all children and families.”

teacher asian sqBut then again:  All it Takes Is One Person

“Intervention may be conceived as an attempt to shift the balance from vulnerability to resilience, either by decreasing exposure to risk factors and stressful life events, or by increasing the number of available protective factors in the lives of vulnerable children” (Werner, 1990). Shifting the balance or tipping the scales from vulnerability to resilience may happen as a result of one person or one opportunity. As we have seen in this review, individuals who have succeeded in spite of adverse environmental conditions in their families, schools, and/or communities have often done so because of the presence of environmental support in the form of one family member, one teacher, one school, one community person that encouraged their success and welcomed their participation.”

Brief  Outline of Some of the Research Discussed

The Characteristics of the Resilient Child

    • Social Competence:  Sense of Humor, flexibility, empathy
    • Problem solving skills
    • Autonomy.   “A sense of one’s own identity and an ability to act independently and exert some control over one’s environment.”
    • Sense of Purpose and Future

The Family Characteristics that Build Resilience

    • Caring and Support.  The “enduring loving involvement of one or more adults in care and joint activity with that child”
    • High Expectations
    • Family Encourages Children’s Participation.  Many opportunities for the children to participate and contribute in meaningful ways.

“family environments with these characteristics provide the fertile soil for the growth and nurturing of that sense of basic trust and coherence essential for human development and, therefore, for the development of the traits of resiliency: social competence, problem-solving skills, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.”

The School Characteristics that Build Resilience

    • Caring and Support.  Opportunities to develop caring relationships with both adults and other youth
    • High Expectations. “the expectation among staff, parents, and the students themselves that they are capable of high achievement”
    • Youth Participation and Involvement.   e.g., “[A] study discovered that when children from an impoverished inner-city environment were given the opportunities to plan and make decisions in their preschool environment, they were at the age of 19 significantly less (as much as 50 percent less!) involved in drug use, delinquency, teen pregnancy, school failure, etc. (Berrueta- Clement et al, 1984; Schweinhart et al, 1986)”

The Community Characteristics that Build Resilience

    • Caring and Support.  ” The clear finding from years of research into crime, delinquency, child abuse, etc. is that communities and neighborhoods rich in social networks–both peer groups and intergenerational relationships–have lower rates of these problems (Garbarino, 1980; Miller and Ohlin, 1985).”
    • High Expectations
    • Opportunities for Participation.  “society tells children and youth that “they have no real place in the scheme of things, that their only responsibility is to go to school and learn and grow up. [ed.] The young people, therefore, view themselves as strictly consumers, not as contributors” D. Hedin 1987