The Stanford Project on Adaptation and Resilience in Kids — the SPARK Lab — seeks to understand how adversity influences children's adaptation across various domains of functioning, ranging from school engagement and academic competence to positive peer relationships and prosocial behaviors. We strive to identify the biological, behavioral, and environmental processes that enable some disadvantaged children to demonstrate remarkable resilience, while placing others at risk for maladaptive outcomes, such as symptoms of anxiety and depression or disruptive behaviors.
We study how the interplay between children's biological sensitivity and the quality of the environments in which they grow and learn shapes children's health and well-being. In addition, we study how self-regulatory skills help children cope with daily challenges by enabling them to control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Our work aims to identify how families and teachers can help children with differing biological reactivity profiles and self-regulatory capacities succeed over time.
Our research has important implications for children who come from diverse family, socio-economic, and ethnic backgrounds. We hope to apply our research findings to the design and implementation of prevention and intervention programs aimed at improving children's lives.
“Take a deep breath” is often the first guidance offered by parents and teachers to an upset child. To understand the effects of deep breathing on elementary school-aged children’s physiology, we created a short, animated video that introduces the benefits of breathing in the context of learning challenges and visually scaffolds children while they take four slow-paced breaths. In this field experiment, we tested whether the deep breathing video reduced physiological arousal relative to a control video in everyday settings that included summer camps, a children's museum, and a public playground. The short deep breathing video successfully reduced heart rate, an effect that was mediated by parasympathetic nervous system activity. It may not be effective to simply ask a young child to take a deep breath, and our video scaffolds children's efforts in learning how to breath slowly. We are making the videos available to families and teachers at no cost.