Before proceeding, we would be remiss if we did not note that questions have been raised recently about the importance of parents in influencing their children's lives. Many parents may not appreciate how different each child is at birth and, thus, may assume more responsibility for their children's success and more blame for their children's failure than is warranted. We believe, however, that even given these innate and environmental differences, parents play a major role in their children's development. More than fifty years of research with parents and children, not only of our species but also of others such as monkeys, has consistently demonstrated the powerful role that parents play in nurturing and shaping the behavior and attitudes of their offspring.
In fact, nearly fifty years ago, experimental psychologist Harry Harlow demonstrated that although infants require sustenance, if given the choice, they choose maternal contact and comfort, not only when stressed but even when hungry. Further, a recent review of parenting research concluded that "the expression of heritable traits depends, often strongly, on experience including specific parental behaviors" (Collins, Maccoby, et al. 2000, 228). However, as will be discussed, it is essential that we understand the parameters of our influence so that we can set realistic goals and expectations for ourselves and our children.
To understand the mindset of a parent capable of developing and reinforcing resiliency in children, we must also understand the mindset or perspective of a resilient child. We must ask what are the major characteristics, skills, and abilities that contribute to a child's resilience, to a child's perceiving the future in a hopeful, confident manner. In grasping the mindset of a resilient child, we gain an invaluable source of information to guide our parenting practices as we attempt to reinforce the components of this mindset in our children. This introductory chapter briefly describes the mindset of the resilient child and the parent who fosters resilience. This grounding will help you to understand what can be done in the parenting process to nurture these features. Subsequent chapters specify strategies for reinforcing resilience.
The Mindset of a Resilient Child
Resilient children possess certain qualities and/or ways of viewing themselves and the world that are not apparent in youngsters who have not been successful in meeting challenges and pressures. Resilient youngsters are able to translate this view, or mindset, into effective action. Resilient children are also hopeful and possess high self-worth. What contributes to this sense of hopefulness and self-worth?
Resilient youngsters feel special and appreciated. They have learned to set realistic goals and expectations for themselves. They have developed the ability to solve problems and make decisions and thus are more likely to view mistakes, hardships, and obstacles as challenges to confront rather than as stressors to avoid. They rely on productive coping strategies that are growth-fostering rather than self-defeating. They are aware of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but they also recognize their strong points and talents. Their self-concept is filled with images of strength and competence. They have developed effective interpersonal skills with peers and adults alike. They are able to seek out assistance and nurturance in a comfortable, appropriate manner from adults who can provide the support they need. Finally, they are able to define the aspects of their lives over which they have control and to focus their energy and attention on these rather than on factors over which they have little, if any, influence.
Developing a resilient mindset is what we would hope for all children. A resilient child is an emotionally healthy child, equipped to successfully confront challenges and bounce back from setbacks. In a sense, the child just described is a "product"; it is how we would like our children to turn out, how we would like our children to view themselves and others. How do we use every situation, every interaction we have with our children as part of a process to reinforce this product? How do we develop an approach that continually works to strengthen a child's resilience?
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