The speaker was Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist from Canada. He wrote the best selling book (and one of my favorites) Hold On To Your Kids.
He had some important things to say that I want to share with you.
The definition of resilience is the ability to handle stress and adversity without a loss of healthy functioning or a hindrance to growth and development.
Basically, it is a “bounce back” effect.
Dr. Neufeld shared that part of the human experience is to be changed by that which we cannot change. The human minds finds ways to work around obstacles and adaptation is one of our innate capabilities.
The keys to resilience include safe emotional attachments, experiencing futility and believing that one is strong enough to handle what could happen.
Safe emotional attachments
The first key is very important and a foundational aspect of creating resilience. Safe, emotional attachments with caring adults actually insulate children from wounding environments. The close relationships matter. Children need someone to give their heart to.
The number one factor that can keep teenagers emotionally healthy and decrease risk factors is having at least one attachment with a caring adult. Kids and teenagers need a safe place in the form of trusted adults. This would ideally be the parents, but it can actually be a teacher, family member, coach or any other important person.
The second key is found in assisting kids to truly feel sadness around their experiences with futility. There is so much in life that we do not have power over and it can be a supremely frustrating experience. Resilience develops when encounters with futility are truly felt. This will often lead to tears, which can then be comforted by the safe and caring adult.
Dr. Neufeld shared that all growth happens from a place of rest, whether physical, emotional or psychological. As parents we should not shield our kids from frustrating experiences with futility. We can be present and available for them to cry and rest in our arms.
The learning of futility is that “I can survive this experience.”
Believing the child is strong
The third key is believing that one is strong enough to handle what could happen. Much of our kids confidence comes from the cues they receive from us. Encouragement, coaching and expressing our belief in them. The parenting challenge here is to take the lead by perceiving the child as strong instead of fragile.
Sometimes when children or teenagers experience difficult life circumstances they seem to have no tears, don’t talk about it and appear to be OK. This can be mistaken for resilience when in fact it is not. They are likely protecting themselves from feeling, becoming hardened and defended. These should be signs of concern for parents.
Resilience is developed in the context of secure attachment, a trusting and safe relationship with a caring adult. Only then can they experience challenges and futility, lean on their secure attachments, find comfort and believe that they can cope with life.
Photo credit: Neufeld Institute (Check out their website for some terrific resources)