Kids are resilient – we hear it all the time and I know I’ve even said it after watching my children pick themselves up, from either physical or emotional pain, and dive right back in again. However, they aren’t born resilient – they are given tools. I recently came across results of a 20 year study that reveals resiliency is not created from extraordinary efforts. Raising resilient children happens when parents, caregivers, teachers, and communities, use simple and effective resources.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is that ability to search for and find positive results, even when the situation is surrounded by negative ones. On the small scale this might mean that a child is resilient and keeps trying to ride that bike, even though he has fallen the first 10 times. On a much larger scale, resilient children can overcome poverty and poor schools to succeed in life as happy, content, contributing adults.
Which Factors Create Resilient Children?
Resilient children do not necessarily have enormously successful parents or schools at their disposal. They have what most of us can give: the ordinary.
From the study a short list of what they call “Protective Factors” emerged that contribute to resilient children.
Ordinary parents – I love this! We don’t have to be extraordinary at all things; we need to be present and accounted for in our children’s lives.
Connections to other competent and caring adults – Surround our kids with family and friends who are positive influences.
Good intellectual skills – This one might be challenging for some, as it is not necessarily an innate quality, but thoughtful education is key.
Self-efficacy – Children who believe in themselves and their abilities often have adults in their lives who do the same.
Appealingness – This isn’t about looking good, but about that spark that kids who have a passion for life display – how they present themselves to the world.
Talents valued by society and self – Who can deny that people feel good about themselves when they can develop a skill or talent that has intrinsic value?
A sense of meaning in life – Children, as well as adults, lead more resilient lives when they find purpose.
Faith and religious affiliations – Numerous studies also show that children do better when they have a foundation of faith.
Socioeconomic advantages – This can be the most daunting for children at risk, as often their family’s financial situations contribute to negative influences. While money doesn’t create resiliency, it does help provide opportunities to children to develop their strengths.
Good schools – Oh – the challenge. There is no single, agreed-upon definition of good schools, but in terms of resiliency, children do need to develop their thinking and analytical skills.
Community resources – Especially for children at risk and faced with larger adversity that just falling off their bikes, community resources come in many forms: housing assistance, health and nutrition attention, mentoring programs, and other positive resources.
What Did the Resilience Study Show?
The study, entitled Project Competence, took 2005 Minneapolis, MN children (114 girls and 91 boys) and gathered information about their lives, including competency levels, adversity in their lives, and family and personal characteristics and traits that influenced their lives. At seven, ten, and twenty years, the conductors of the study reevaluated each child. At the twenty-year mark, measures were taken of those children who had succeeded despite adversity, and which children had internal and external resources, specifically thinking skills and exposure to effective parenting.
Those children who faced adversity had these two specific traits of thinking and exposure to effective parenting were more likely to be able to learn, pay attention, and problem solve. They developed rich relationships and participated in full levels with their communities.
How Can I Raise a Resilient Child?
While the list above of the factors that contribute to resilient children might seem overwhelming in scope, it really highlights something very positive. There is nothing earth-shattering or mind-blowing in the list. Resilient children don’t need everything to be extraordinary. They need access to ordinary parents and the opportunities to learn problem solving skills. If we take each one of the factors that contribute to resiliency and help apply them to our own children, we can create extraordinary lives out of ordinary approaches.