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Developing resilience in children

By Staff | Jun 18, 2009

NAPILI – For years, I have observed well-intentioned parents attempt to rescue their children from difficulties that arise at school or at home. These parents act to help their children by protecting them from facing and dealing with real issues, taking responsibility for their actions in disciplinary situations, and working through uncomfortable social situations.

Such actions create psychological dependency and send subtle messages that the child is unable to resolve his/her own problems. Thus, parents unintentionally prevent their children from developing the resiliency they need in order to deal with the challenges that they will face in their lives.

Noted speaker and author Dr. Robert Brooks has addressed this issue extensively. He views resilience as a process of teaching and parenting that is critical for preparing children for lifelong success. It is a quality conveyed through feelings, thoughts and behaviors – one that facilitates a child’s ability to overcome adversity, resolve problems and bounce back from disappointments. In his book, “Raising Resilient Children and Nurturing Resilience in Our Children,” Dr. Brooks offers helpful principles and strategies that parents and teachers can use as guidelines in nurturing a resilient mindset in children of all ages.

Being empathetic: Empathy is the capacity of parents to imagine themselves inside the lives of their youngsters and see the world through their eyes. Empathy does not imply that parents agree with everything their children do, but rather that they make an attempt to appreciate and validate their point of view.

Communicating effectively: Communication is not simply how we speak to others. It involves actively listening to children, understanding and validating what they are attempting to say, and responding in ways that avoid power struggles – by not interrupting them, by not telling them how they “should” feel, by not putting them down, and by trying to avoid using absolutes, such as “always” and “never,” in a demeaning way.

Changing negative scripts: Every parent can offer numerous examples of repeatedly nagging a child about something with little or no positive response on the child’s part. If something parents have said or done for a reasonable amount of time is not working, then they must change the “script” if children are to change theirs. This does not imply “giving in to” or “spoiling” children; rather, it teaches youngsters that there are different ways to solve a problem.

Loving children in ways that help them feel special and appreciated: A basic guideline for building resilience is the presence of at least one adult (hopefully several) who believes in the worth of the child. Such adults need not necessarily be parents. They are individuals who convey love, acceptance and respect for the child – individuals with whom a child can identify and from whom they can draw strength.

Accepting children for who they are and helping them set realistic expectations and goals: Parents must understand and accept their child’s unique temperament. Acceptance does not mean letting children do whatever they want. However, when children feel accepted, it is easier for them to respond to requests and limits because they experience these in an atmosphere of love and support.

Helping children experience success by identifying and reinforcing their “islands of competence”: True self-worth, hope and resilience are created when children experience success in areas of their lives that they and others deem to be important. Each child has different interests and talents that take time to develop. Parents must promote their children’s strengths rather than emphasize their weaknesses.

Helping children recognize that mistakes are experiences from which to learn: Resilient children tend to view mistakes as opportunities for learning rather than as an indication that they are failures. Parents must set realistic expectations, emphasize that mistakes are not only expected, but also accepted, communicate that their children are loved and accepted even when they make mistakes, and serve as models for dealing with setbacks.

Developing responsible, compassionate and socially conscious children by providing opportunities to contribute: Almost every child from a very young age appears motivated to help others. Children need opportunities to make a positive difference in the world and be involved in charitable work in their community.

Teaching children to solve problems and make decisions: Resilient children define problems, consider different solutions, attempt the most appropriate solutions and learn from the outcomes. To reinforce this problem-solving attitude, parents must provide guidance to children in developing their own plans of action, thus increasing their sense of ownership and control.

Disciplining in a way that promotes self-discipline and self-worth: Be consistent, but not rigid; know children’s capabilities and don’t push them to achieve unrealistic expectations. Rely, when possible, on natural, logical consequences rather than arbitrary, punitive measures, and remember that positive feedback and encouragement are often the most powerful form of discipline.

Regularly applying these commonsense principles with children takes continuous practice. However, it is well worth the effort if they acquire skills that will help them resolve problems and bounce back from disappointments throughout their lives.

My articles will return in August. Enjoy a great summer!