Developing '6 Core Strengths'


Dr Bruce Perry, in his research, has identified the '6 core strengths' that children need to be humane. A child who can form and maintain healthy emotional relationships, self-regulate, join and contribute to a group and be aware, tolerant and respectful of themselves and others will be more resourceful, more successful in social situations and be more resilient. Problems arise when one or more of these strengths did not develop normally.

Significantly, Perry’s research has discovered that children with these core strengths rarely become violent and in fact recover more quickly when exposed to violence.

At GROW, we therefore focus on helping children to develop these six core strengths. These six core strengths are explained in more detail below. 

1. Attachments: being a friend

Attachment is the capacity to form and maintain healthy emotional bonds with another person. It develops in infancy as a baby interacts with attuned, loving, responsive and attentive parents and caregivers.

Why it is important?

This core strength is the corner stone of all the others. Healthy attachments allow a child to love, to become a good friend, and have a positive and helpful model for future relationships. A securely attached child will be a better friend and student and be more capable to learning in school.


2. Self-Regulation: thinking before you act

Developing and maintaining the ability to notice and control primary urges such as hunger and sleep as well as feelings of frustration, anger and fear is a lifelong process. It’s very early roots begin with external regulation provided by parents or significant caregiver in the form of ‘soothing’. Its healthy growth depends on a child’s experience and the maturation of the brain.

Why it is important? 

When a child doesn’t have the capacity to self-regulate, they will have problems sustaining friendships, learning and controlling their behaviour. Pausing a moment between an impulse and an action is a life tool. But it is a strength that must be learned- we are not born with it. The research is very clear- children with poor self-control have poorer outcomes in life.


3. Affiliation: joining in

Affiliation is the glue for healthy human functioning. It allows us to form and maintain relationships with others and to create something stronger, more adaptive and more creative than the individual.

Why it is important?

Human beings are social creatures. We are biologically designed to live, grow and work in groups. A family is a child’s first and important group, glued together by the strong emotional bonds of attachment. But most other groups that children join, such as a preschool class, children in the community and clubs are based on circumstances or common interests. It is here that they will have thousands of brief emotional and social experiences that will help shape their development.


4. Awareness: thinking of others

Awareness is the ability to recognise the needs, interests, strengths and values of others. Infants begin life self-absorbed and slowly develop awareness- the ability to see themselves and to sense and categorize the other people in their world.

Why it is important?

The ability to be attuned, to read and to respond to the needs of theirs is an essential element of human communication. An aware child learns about the needs and complexities of others by watching, listening and forming relationships with a variety of children. They will become part of a group (which the core strength of affiliation allows them to do) and sees ways in which they are alike and different. The more aware a child is the more able they will be to include others into their groups and thus not engage in behaviour such as teasing.


5. Tolerance: accepting differences

Tolerance is the capacity to understand and accept how others are different from you. This core strength builds upon another- awareness (once aware- what you do with the differences you observe?)

Why it is important?

Research is very clear that it’s natural and human to be afraid of what’s new and different; a child must first face the fear of differences. This can be a challenge because children tend to affiliate based on similarities in- age, interests, families or cultures. But they also learn to reach out and be more sensitive to others by watching how the adults in their lives relate to one another. With positive modelling, you can insure and build on children’s tolerance. The tolerant child is more flexible and adaptive in many ways. Most important when a child learns to accept difference in others they will become able to value the things that make each of us special and unique.


6. Respect: Respecting yourself and others

Appreciating your own self-worth and the value of others grows from the foundation of the preceding 5 strengths. An aware, tolerant child with good affiliation, attachment and self-regulation strengths gains respect naturally. The development of respect is a lifelong process yet its roots are in early childhood as children learn these core strengths and integrate them into their behaviours and their worldview.

Why it is important?

Children will belong to many groups, meet many kinds of people and will need to be able to listen, negotiate, compromise and cooperate. Having respect enables a child to accept others and to see the value in diversity. They will learn to see that every group needs many styles and many strengths to succeed and he can value each person in the group for their talents and strengths. When children respect and value diversity they find the world to be more interesting, complex and a safer place. Just as understanding replaces ignorance, respect replaces fear.