Developing Resiliency In Children

I have been thinking a lot lately about the development of resiliency in children.  Resiliency in childhood seems to be an area of great psychological research currently and if you start to search for it on the Internet a lot of information will come up.  Resiliency is essentially how a person sees challenges and obstacles in life; and how that person rises up to meet those challenges and obstacles.

The first place I saw this concept recently, (which spurred me to think more about it), was in this free on-line ebook called “Developmental Signatures” at the On-Line Waldorf Library.  I have mentioned it before in a back post, but here is the link to the 159- page book in case you want to read it for yourself:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/pg/focusSearch/focusSearch.asp?keywordType=general&keywordValue=developmental signature&page=1&showItem=1&ResourceID=1335

One thing that struck me in this book was the notion that the spirit, part of that three-fold organization of the human being that Steiner so eloquently lectured and wrote about, was treated in this book as having much to do with resiliency:

The spiritual organization is strengthened to master problems through
experiences of coherence. It is an unconditional requirement for developing courage and security in life. In wellness research this is usually referred to as “resilience”  (Opp 1999). This means the individual can meet the hardships and adversities of life because he or she views them not as unchangeable facts, but as challenges that must be met. Resilience is rooted in the knowledge that one’s own forces will grow in strength through conflict and that challenges provide opportunities for self-development.”

Doesn’t this make you stop and think about yourself for a moment?  I mean, are you a resilient person?  When life, parenting or homeschooling throws you a curveball, can you muster up your own inner will and initiate solving problems or facing challenges?  How do you do that?  How do you model this for your children?  Do you see this quality in your older children at all?

In digging around, I found our friends at Resiliency Canada have already done quite some research into intrinsic and extrinsic pieces that make up resiliency and how parents can help.  To see more, try this link http://www.resiliencycananda.ca

Intrinsic qualities seem to involve the child feeling safe enough to express who he or she authentically is, with the child feeling capable and having a sense of purpose (uh, do you all remember a back post in which I asked if your child was gone what tasks would go undone?), self-control, social empathy and compassion, and an ability to accept the fact that not everyone is like themselves in terms of spirituality, or race or socioeconomic background.

We can help foster these intrinsic qualities, in my mind at least, by:

Connecting with our children and loving them for who they are, even if their behavior is not what we are searching for in the moment.  Behavior does not reflect upon the essential core of the child.  I think we need to show children how we make mistakes and how we fix things but yet still maintain the authority of being the parent.  Researchers also found a child’s participation in spiritual or religious activities was really important in developing these intrinsic qualities.

Extrinsic qualities, to me,  are supported by things outside of the child:  the family, friends, school life, communities and BOUNDARIES.  Researchers have pointed out that this means as parents we should be modeling  being healthy and functioning within the context of a family or community and having time to spend with their children. 

Here are some other interesting links I found regarding resiliency in children.

Here are tips for parents to help promote resilience in older children:  http://www.nasponline.org/publications/cq/cq343resiliencytips.aspx

10 ways to make your child more resilient: http://www.nasponline.org/publications/cq/cq343resiliencytips.aspx

The section on “Individual Factors”  in this article are especially interesting: http://www.practicenotes.org/vol3_no1/promoting_resiliency_in_families_and_children.htm

The ResilienceNet Virtual Library:  http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library.html

A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library/grotb95b.html

I think Waldorf education and mindful parenting has a lot to offer in this area of creating resiliency for our children throughout the different seven year cycles of childhood.

Happy Reading!

Many blessings,

Carrie

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7 thoughts on “Developing Resiliency In Children

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about this very subject, Carrie, and it is so helpful to read your perspective and see the resources you’ve suggested. Sometimes I wonder if I am not providing enough opportunities for conflict and challenge – so that my children can develop resiliency – because we are homeschooling. My children are little (almost 6 and 2), so maybe I shouldn’t be too focused on this, but sometimes I find myself feeling like we live in a little “bubble”. Any thoughts on this question as to whether or not homeschooling provides enough challenging situations to develop resiliency in children?

    Thank you for your many, many thoughtful posts. I am so grateful for your blog!

  2. Absolutely. After I spent more than three years reading everything I could get my hands on about what made happy, resilient and self-assured mature children – we ended up sending our children to the local Rudolf Steiner school. It’s definitely the closest match to the science – parenting too.

  3. Hi Carrie,

    I have been reading your blog for several weeks and it’s awesome :) I am a mother of four daughters and currently, we are just a normal regular family in today’s society.

    However, I want to change. Your posts about rhythm and inner work speak so much to me. When my husband and I became parents, we just did what everyone else did. But, we had a special needs baby that needed more than that. Rather than follow my own instincts, I followed the advice of mainstream books and doctors. This little one is doing wonderful, which I attribute to the fact that we are faith filled Christians and pray for her all the time, and that I’ve tried to nurture her in a natural way. But with each child, I’ve pulled away from the more natural approach.

    My oldest two daughters are in public school and I will have one starting this next year. While homeschool is probably not the right option for us now, it may be in the future. Still, I want to transition our family into the Waldorf principles. Some of the concepts are very new to me, like warmth and gentle discipline. Also, we are a plugged in family, as in we have 2 computers, video games, satellite tv and iphones. My husband works on computers at work all day!

    I want to change many things, but am not sure how. Right now I am purging the household of old useless and plastic toys and items. I figure if I can change our surroundings, then it will help to facilitate how we do things and our inner selves. I am currently shopping around for some toy replacements and natural fibers for clothing etc. This is hard! We’re so used to running to walmart for things :)

    The things I have had going for years are making our own bread and cooking from scratch, growing a veggie and herb garden every year, this year we have chickens, sewing and knitting some of our clothes, using cloth diapers and making our own soap from time to time. My children have seen these things, so I guess I am in between lifestyles.

    What I really really need help with is the daily rhythm and including the girls in my work. It’s easy to get frustrated quick!!! Eight hands everywhere! I also need to work on my attitude and view of my days. Anyways, just wanted to say that this blog is very helpful for me, and if you have any helpful ideas/links please pass them along. Thanks and God bless!

    Jessica

  4. Thank you so much for posting on this topic!

    I wholeheartedly agree that Waldorf education and parenting have a lot to offer in this area. I think that is why, despite not having my children in a Waldorf school, I have been drawn to this blog.

    I too am very interested in resiliency (my young children and I are coping with the death of their father/my husband from cancer). I very much appreciated the resources. Sometimes, though, I have a hard time knowing how to transfer what I read into practice, so for any other parents of young children out there that are facing challenging/stressful times, I tried to put together a list of the things that seemed to work best for our family (in no particular order).

    1. Help your kids write and continually rewrite their “life narrative” so they can see how they continually meet and deal with challenges, and also to help them develop a sense of identity and purpose that can “pull them through” tough times (e.g., when my 2 year old is proud of something he accomplished, he wants to write it down in his “Memories Book” and tells me “Daddy would be so proud”; my 4 year old tells me “we are a strong family because we have lots of love and that love makes us strong”). Some ways that have helped our kids develop a sense of a life narrative include: my husband playing dollhouse with our oldest and acting out whatever was on her mind, from friendship issues to concerns about his cancer (similarly, they did puppet shows and plays); when we knew my husband didn’t have much longer to live, we created a book for each child (using Kodak gallery) that told the story of his cancer and what happens when someone dies and how our lives might change/what we would miss but also what things would stay the same and how we would cope, and I continue to read this to the kids often (it’s especially important for our youngest who is still struggling to understand the permanence of death); both kids write letters to their dad from time to time (usually with my help); they write or dictate stories and do lots of drawing/painting that help them process and get out their feelings; we’ve just started doing a timeline of their life so they can see all the wonderful times that have marked our lives as well as the harder moments; and, inspired by a post on this blog about creating a family mission statement, we’ve created a poster where the kids write the things they think define us as a family.

    2. Help your children learn how to notice the physical signs of stress or sadness or various feelings. We’ve done feelings charts, body outlines where they color in what happens when they get scared (red cheeks, fast heart beat, my older child said her legs want to run). My own kids don’t like to talk about their feelings directly too often, but they love to color and will often talk about things as they color.

    3. Help your child figure out what is therapeutic for them when they confront difficult feelings (my younger child wants a hug and snuggle, my older child wants to polish and clean things). That said, I found it interesting that in one of the resources that you linked to, they noted that “Children born with ‘easy’ temperaments are more easily nurtured by parents, making a ‘good’ disposition a resilient trait at birth (Charity, 1997).” It is all the more important to find ways to nurture and make time for snuggling/consoling/loving with children with less easy temperaments. With my older, I make a point to go to her after, say, 20 minutes of polishing and give her a hug — or at the very least, polish with her — and as part of the bedtime routine, I makes sure she gets some good snuggling in.

    4. Help your children be successful at things that may be harder for them. Social connections are an area of difficulty for my children. If I ask if they want to have a playdate or if they want to join a group of friends across the room, they usually say no; but if I ask instead whether they would like me to help them join a group of friends or if they would like to invite a friend to our house to do an art project with them (which provides some structure that I think they find helpful), they usually say yes — and they seem to enjoy the success of those interactions.

    5. That said, don’t feel the need to push kids to do something they are not ready for. It took me a long time to realize that my kids not wanting to do things with their friends was probably a very healthy reaction to needing to first feel secure and reconnected as a family after my husband died. Once they did that (which required my standing strong in the face of friends who wanted and needed us to go back to being “normal”), they were able to turn again to the world outside our immediate family. And through it, I learned that this whole “coping” thing is a long long process, and that my best tool on the journal is my own and my kids’ instincts.

    6. Again, following some strong instincts, rhythm, sleep, healthy eatings and other healthy habits, consistency, and clear expectations and boundaries were essential to making my kids feel safe and secure again.

    7. My kids go back and forth between wanting to just focus on ourselves and wanting to “give back.” When they’re able to do it, “giving back” is a powerful way to develop a sense of purpose and to regain a sense of control and self-efficacy. We doing lovingkindness meditations, play cooperative games, run in cancer walks, and the kids make cards and give donations to the doctors and nurses and people that helped us take care of my husband, as well as others that we hear of in similar situations.

    8. Nature. This is our family’s Great Escape, our therapy, and our way of refueling ourselves spiritually.

    • Thank you Grateful, for such a beautiful, thoughtful and moving reply. We have recently lost our young daughter to cancer and your comment has both provided a back up for some similar things we’re already doing and given me ideas for new things to think about. I am grateful!

  5. Dear Grateful,
    I am so very sorry for your families loss!
    Your suggestions for facing stressful life situations are wonderful and ring true, as we have implemented some of them as well when we had a loss in our family and are still working with those.
    Thank you so much for your suggestions!
    Blessings to you all,
    Maggie

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