I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of childhood resilience. In fact, this inquisitiveness led me to a career in child psychology and the non profit sector working with the world’s most disadvantaged children. I’ve made it my life’s work to understand how trauma affects children and help them to cope with it. The curiosity came out of an eagerness to understand my own profound resiliency after having a childhood of chaos.
Shortly after the death of my mother, when I was a six-month-old infant, I was diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive’. My body simply wouldn’t grow until I felt safe and loved. Understandably, my father couldn’t cope with looking after an infant at that time and I was given away to be raised by relatives in another country.
By the age of three, I was given back to my father. One doesn’t have to be a psychologist to imagine the kind of trauma the first three years of my life entailed. The rest of my childhood and adolescence was filled with more hardship and challenges. And yet even though I faced so much adversity, I managed to overcome it. I ‘made it’. As a young adult, I was always told things like: ‘You must have had a guardian angel looking after you’ or ‘You’re really lucky’.
This led me to want to understand why some children are more resilient than others. Is it luck? Is it genetics? Is it the quality of relationships in the child’s life? And is there something we can do to cultivate resiliency in children so that when faced with life’s challenges they are able to cope and manage these situations?
Of course my childhood is on the extreme side of the spectrum but the reality is that all children will face some challenges in life whether at school or home. As parents, we want to bubble wrap our children keeping them from risk and harm. However, children require learning how to try and fail. They need to understand that not all stress is bad. As Dr. Bruce Perry’s renowned research has proven, ‘resilient children are made, not born.’ Research has identified a common set of factors that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of adversity. I recently spent two days in Vancouver, B.C. at the Heart-Mind 2016 Conference on Cultivating Resilience by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.
The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education is focused on children’s social and emotional development. They call it fostering Heart-Mind well-being. Providing children with the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions which has been proven to not only improve their well-being but also improves their academic performance.
During the two day conference, parents, caregivers, and educators were informed of the latest research on how to promote resilience in children. Here’s everything you need to know and some free (and really cool!) resources:
5 Ways to Cultivate Resilience in Children
1. Relationships: The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult such as a teacher. The quantity and quality of relationships in a child’s life is key.
2. Altruism: Children can be empowered by helping others. Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work which gives the child a sense of purpose and meaning. For ideas you can check out my previous post.
3. Self Efficacy: Teach your children that they have a sense of control in their life. Enable them to believe in their power to change their own life.
4. Self Regulation: Provide opportunities for your children to strengthen their adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities through tools such as mindfulness. Mindfulness creates structural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress.
5. Culture and Language: Mobilise sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions in your children. In order to be resilient the child needs a strong sense of self and identity. The more solid and rooted the child, the more resilient they will be. Children need a sense of family, it can be biological or anyone else that makes the child feel loved the feeling is reciprocated. A sense of community is important for the child to feel that they belong.