A basic guidepost for building resilience is the presence of at least one adult (hopefully several) who believes in the worth of the child. The late Dr. Julius Segal referred to that person as a "charismatic adult," an adult from whom a child "gathers strength." Never underestimate the power of one person to redirect a child toward a more productive, successful, satisfying life. As parents, we must find ways in which to help children feel special and appreciated without indulging them.
One possible approach is to schedule "special times" alone with each of our children so that we can give them our undivided attention and have opportunities to convey a belief in them. However, this is often more difficult to accomplish than one realizes, as evidenced by what occurred in eight-year-old Stephanie's house.
Stephanie's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Grant, put time aside each evening to either read or play games with her. Stephanie greatly enjoyed this time. Nonetheless, when the phone rang, they would interrupt their activity with Stephanie, explaining that phone calls were important. Stephanie soon chose to watch television rather than be continually disappointed.
In helping our children to feel special and appreciated, we must give our love unconditionally. This does not mean an absence of discipline or accountability; it means that even if they transgress, we still love and accept them.
5. Accepting Our Children for Who They Are and Helping Them to Set Realistic Expectations and Goals
One of the most difficult leaps for parents is to accept their children's unique temperament. When this acceptance is present, parents can successfully set expectations and goals consistent with the child's temperament. Every child is unique from the moment of birth. Some youngsters come into the world with so-called easy temperaments, others with "difficult" temperaments, and still others with shy or cautious temperaments. When parents are unaware of their child's inborn temperament, they may say or do things that impede satisfying relationships, expecting things from their children that the children cannot deliver.
For example, school was an environment in which ten-year-old Carl experienced little success. In the morning he appeared to dawdle, often missing the school bus. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas, would then find themselves obligated to drive him to school. A neighbor advised them not to drive Carl; if he ended up missing school for the day, it would teach him a valuable lesson. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas took the advice but, to their dismay, discovered that Carl was no better prepared to get ready for school the next day. They were bewildered about what to do next and became increasingly angry at Carl for his seeming irresponsibility. In desperation they decided to restrict many of his pleasurable activities.
Carl's parents were unaware that Carl was late not because he was irresponsible but rather because, similar to a number of other children, he was distractible, often becoming drawn into other activities, and moved at a slow pace. Instead of yelling or punishing, it would be more effective to accept that this is Carl's style and to engage him in a discussion of what he thinks could help and/or to work closely with the school to have a motivating job or responsibility waiting for him at the beginning of the school day. For example, a child with whom we worked was given the job of "tardy monitor" at school, a position that entailed arriving early and keeping track of which students were late. The child loved the responsibility and arrived dutifully on time.
Accepting children for who they are and appreciating their different temperaments does not mean that we excuse inappropriate, unacceptable behavior but rather that we understand this behavior and help to change it in a manner that does not erode a child's self-esteem and sense of dignity.
Copyright © 2001 Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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