“Reducing the number of negative life events that children encounter would be a laudable goal, although not a very practical one. However, children can be taught ways of coping with stressors that can reduce their negative impact.”
Psychologists Judy Garber and Nina C. Martin (2002, p. 142)
Building resiliency in children is not something that occurs overnight, nor is it something best explored only after a child endures a traumatic life event. The skills necessary for effectively dealing with adversity are something that can be conveyed to a child through everyday life. Resiliency is about the proper mental attitude; the mindset of recognizing that life comes with its hardships and being able to look past them to adopt a happier, healthier perspective. As we say throughout our other literature: no matter how horrible the experience that your child endures, their welfare is dependent not upon what happened, but by their attitudes and environment afterwards.
Promoting Mental toughness in Kids
In our first section we talked about the concept of neuroplasticity – how a child’s brain is wired according to their experiences and environment. These neural pathways then become their default modes of thinking; something they will resort to when confronted with new situations or challenges. This is bad for children who endure things like neglect, chronic abuse or hostility, as these forms of aggression or deprivation will wire their brain accordingly. With repeated exposure these negative pathways in the brain become more established, so that a child will be quicker to see aggression or lack of care in others, even when it’s not there. They’ll be more sensitive to hostility and more likely to respond antisocially towards others. They’re likely to interpret the world as a more hostile, negative, and threatening place. Their brain has been wired with the messages and metaprograms built from a negative environment.
Yet such neuroplasticity can also work to our advantage. Children who grow up surrounded with love and affection end up incurring the opposite effect. They are more secure in their surroundings; they are more likely to respond to conflict by seeking reparation and repair with others; they will see the good in others more readily and act in more loving ways throughout their life. Their overall interpretation of the world will be more positive than negative, which will buffer them against adversity. This thinking comes naturally because it’s the default mode of reacting that has been etched into their neural circuitry, thanks to the love, security, and affection they grew up with.
The concept of neuroplasticity also applies when it comes to resiliency against stress or trauma. If parents work at it, a child’s brain can also be wired with the connections for resiliency, so that when they encounter adversity, they have a pre-existing framework of productive, prosocial metaprograms that will guide their thoughts and interpretations of the experience. Just like love or affection, these metaprograms need to be built over time through repeated exposure to the message. If parents do this, then they can essentially program their child with all the right thoughts and skills to guide them through life’s rough patches, so that resiliency is basically their default mode of thinking. Without this neural circuitry in place, children are either left to their own devices, or worse, come to interpret adversity through the type of catastrophic thinking and negative social messages that are all too easy to come by in this world…messages which are generally unhelpful and usually flat out destructive.
We’ve condensed these positive messages, or metaprograms for resiliency, into a set of simple concepts that can be taught to children of any age. They should be something you reinforce throughout everyday life, and actively teach children from a young age. Also included are links to children’s books and other resources that will help reinforce these concepts (a list that is growing as we continue to develop these materials, adding them to our website when they are finished). Use them often.
While we can’t prevent negative events from occurring, this section will help you teach your children the best ways to respond to adversity. It will assist you in the task of wiring their minds with the metaprograms for resiliency, which will greatly reduce their future suffering.
Do you want to learn how to program your child’s brain with metaprograms for resiliency? It’s all included in our Raising Resilient Children eBook (just $4.99; all revenue we earn on this book goes toward helping children around the world.) Get your copy today and learn about specific messages you can teach that will greatly reduce the amount of pain your children experience in life.
Resources to Teach Children Resiliency