Many of us assume that the absence of adversity in a child’s life predicts success. Hence, we strive to protect children from such experiences. In Children at Promise: 9 Principles to Help Kids Thrive in an At-Risk World, Cheryl Bostrom and Timothy Stuart challenge this assumption with the belief that adversity can become the tool by which children can learn to succeed and prosper.

The authors skillfully apply sound theoretical principles of child development and parent education in a practical and useful format. They embed these principles within a framework of faith-based positive thinking and resiliency, suggesting that all children face adversity throughout their lives. However, with the support of trusting adult relationships, these adverse experiences can be reframed as building blocks for success. Because of the structured and reader-friendly format in which the book is presented, it is appropriate for a variety of reading audiences, including parents, grandparents, other extended family members, clinicians, and school personnel.

Bostrom (’80 M.A. English) and Stuart, former associate director of WSU’s Native Teacher Preparation Program at Northwest Indian College, start with an explanation of the “AT-PROMISE Paradigm Shift.” This is built on the premises that children are motivated by love rather than fear; that they are viewed in light of who they are, rather than what they have or do not have; that success is defined in terms of positive contributions to the moral and social fabric of society, rather than material gain; and that adversity is viewed as a tool through which adults can help children construct character and success, rather than as a source of damage and a precursor of failure.

The authors then define the nine interacting principles that comprise the acronym AT-PROMISE, with a detailed follow-up chapter on each principle. The principles are:

A Adversity
T Trusting relationships
P Perseverance
R Responsibility for actions
O Optimism
M Motivation from identity
I Integrity
S Service
E Engaged play

Stuart and Bostrom explain how children who have lived through serious adverse experiences harbor fear that is often manifested as control, denial, isolation, and hopelessness. Throughout the book, the authors highlight the importance of adults taking responsibility for initiating and nurturing trusting relationships with children. It is out of these relationships that adults can model hope and instill confidence in troubled youth, so that fear is supplanted by hope and trust. The authors cite evidence by researchers in child psychology such as Steven and Sybil Wolin, who write on resiliency models, and Michael Rutter, a professor of developmental psychopathology whose research includes the study of protective factors of children.

I found this book a pleasure to read. I commend the authors on their hopeful and positive approach toward working with children who have experienced adversity, especially in today’s world, where such experiences are becoming more the norm than the exception.

– Phyllis Erdman, chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology, WSU

Timothy S. Stuart and Cheryl Bostrom ’80
Jossey Bass, Inc
San Francisco, CA
2003