• Parenting

Two generations ago, our country declared a war on poverty. While the nation has made substantial progress in responding to poverty and poverty-related conditions, some of its most devastating and destructive impacts remain most prevalent in children and are too often passed down from one generation to the next. This year, a spotlight on antipoverty programs and policies has illuminated the alarming differences between children who live in poverty and their more affluent counterparts.

Many headlines emerged from research by psychologists revealing that children living in poverty are more likely to experience low academic achievement, obesity, behavioral problems, and social and emotional development difficulties. Prolonged stress related to material deprivation, hardships and diminished life prospects associated with childhood poverty disrupt development of brain architecture and physiological systems and inhibit intellectual and emotional development. What’s more, research has revealed that early childhood is an age when poverty is more common and the consequences can be cumulative over time, negatively affecting one’s physical and mental health trajectory into adulthood (Maholmes & King, 2012).

For low-income parents raising children, overcoming the seemingly insurmountable odds can contribute to fostering a sense of hopelessness. Living a life plagued with constant depletion and decision-making, while balancing a shrinking allocation of resources, can leave a family distressed. While the demographics of American families may be diverse, parents’ aspirations for their children are similar: They seek the promise of a better future resulting from a good education, increased economic opportunities and belief in a level playing field (Maholmes & King, 2012).

Fifty years ago, three psychologists were at the table when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation to enact anti poverty policies and safety net programs: Drs. Uri Bronfenbrenner, Mamie Clark and Edward Zigler. Today, scores of psychologists remain engaged, offering mounting evidence and improved interventions that bolster children’s ability to cope and thrive in less than optimal environments.

More specifically, psychological research has become more sophisticated and provides more in-depth evidence of when, where and how low-income parents can mitigate some of the negative effects of poverty on their children’s lives and development. To highlight some of what we know, the APA Public Interest Directorate’s Office on Socioeconomic Status and the Office on Children, Youth, and Families have collaborated to produce a resource for low-income parents and other caregivers on how they can bolster children’s resilience in the face of the environmental stressors of poverty.

This valuable resource offers a roadmap for translating psychological research into practical applications for the public. It outlines how such actions as developing family routines, talking about emotions, role modeling, and discussing problem-solving strategies can help children living in poverty build resilience. It also suggests the importance of reading, singing and dancing with young children and how other activities to engage older children can help.

Furthermore, it discusses how social networks, community centers (such as Boys and Girls Clubs) and public libraries can play crucial roles in bolstering children’s development.


Keita, G. (2014). “From Risk to Resilience: Parents Offer Protection.” Vol. 45. No. 11.

Pg. 53. American Psychological Association.

Maholmes, V. & King, R.B. (Eds.). (2012). “The Oxford Handbook of Poverty and Child Development.” New York: Oxford University Press.