What is resilience?

When I first saw this clip a few weeks ago, I thought it was a fantastic representation of resilience! But what IS resilience, and how do we promote it in the children we work with?

In their NAEYC article on resilience, Peter Pizzolongo and Amy Hunter share the American Psychological Association’s definition of resilience as “the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress.” They mention research that identifies factors related to infant temperament, like being easy-going, affectionate, and active, as predictive of a child’s resilience. Factors such as a young child’s willingness to ask for help when needed, and an emerging sense of humor have also been shown to be part of this valuable trait.

Sounds good! But how do we GET it?

The Devereux Foundation identifies three primary protective factors involved with resilience:

1) Attachment/Relationships: which refers to the child’s ability to promote and maintain mutual, positive connections with other children and significant adults.

2) Initiative: the child’s ability to use independent thought and action to meet his or her needs.

3) Self-Regulation: the child’s ability to to express emotions and manage behaviors in healthy ways.

Devereux has a great poster that highlights specific behaviors in children that demonstrate these factors..check it out here!

I consider myself a pretty resilient woman. Although I’ve been blessed with much, I’ve also had my share of trauma over the last few decades and have been able to keep riding those waves of change. What was it about MY early childhood years that allows me to keep bouncing back? Here’s a quick pictorial tour of the protective factors my family offered me that I am SURE helped to promote my resilience!

Protective factor #1: Attachment and Relationships

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I was born with the kind of temperament that made it easier to form a relationship with me (although I doubt that my sweet Mother would call her plunge into motherhood with me easy!). Temperament is inborn; I got lucky!

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I had lots of chances to play with other children: neighbors, children of my parents’ friends, like little Frankie here, and relatives.

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Even after my sister was born, I got lots of attention from both my Mother, and my Dad,

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and I was the apple of my grandfather’s eye (first grandchild and all that)!

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Protective Factor #2: Initiative

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My parents were attentive, but gave us lots of freedom to explore and play independently.

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They encouraged us to try new things (no, golf did not become my passion…).

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They allowed both my sister and I, who are very different, to follow our own interests…

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And encouraged us to imagine and pretend and become our dreams.

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Protective Factor #3: Emotional Regulation

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My parents both acknowledged our feelings, and helped us to work through them, even as young children. In this photo, my dad is helping me to do what the nice man with the camera is asking me to do, which I obviously didn’t want to at age 3! (No, I am not an artist either…)

And the result of this support? TA DA! A beaming little artist on her way to resilience!

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I’m sure many of you have read of Albert Bandura’s experiments with Bobo the Clown…you remember: we see a young child pounding on poor Bobo after seeing a grad student model aggression? Well, here’s a great example of emotional regulation when all of the protective factors are in place! A good day for little Stephanie AND her pal Bobo!

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What protective factors can you think of that have impacted your own life? And more importantly: What have YOU done with the children in your care to promote resilience? (and no, you do not have to breakdance on a hopscotch game! But if you WANT to…or THEY want to…remember that part about developing a sense of humor! 🙂

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The Lobster in the Pot: Or…why I’m writing this blog!

We’ve all heard the story about the frog. You know the one: Once upon a time, there was a frog. The bird, or fox, or witch wants to cook him and eat him for dinner. But Frog is smart. When he is put in boiling water, he leaps out immediately and hops away as fast as his legs will carry him. So, his hungry nemesis decides to trick him, and invites him to swim in a large pot of cool water. Frog loves it! He has so much fun swimming around that he does not notice that gradually the temperature of the water is rising, as the fire beneath it heats up. By the time the water reaches boiling: it is too late to escape. Poor Frog is cooked! And frog legs are on the menu of the bad guy.

This metaphor has been used for all kinds of political, and social purposes; google it and be amazed by its prevalence in the cultural fabric of our society. Never one to want to be cliché, I’m offering an alternative image: that of the LOBSTER (mostly because a brilliant friend of mine posted great pictures of her children’s creative costumes on Facebook).

Children living in families where substance abuse occurs are like the lobster. The pot of water where they swim is the only home they’ve ever known. They don’t know that other little lobsters don’t have to watch Mommy fall asleep from her pills BEFORE she puts her baby lobsters to bed, and that some Daddies actually remember their promise to take their lobster kids to the park, rather than deciding to spend the weekend at the bar. The little lobsters adapt, and their behaviors and thinking help them to “normalize” all the dysfunction they are immersed in.

Until… the chaos becomes too heated and those protective mechanisms quit working. And that’s when things reach the boiling point for our little lobsters. They begin to act out in school, stop learning, withdraw from their friends, and, if statistics are to believed, are at high risk to begin using drugs and alcohol themselves as young adolescents.

How do we help these little lobsters stay safe? According to some estimates, one in four children lives in a home affected by substance abuse. Do the math. In your class of twenty 4 year olds, you may have five children at risk. We have learned ways to keep children physically safe: Call Childline if there is evidence of abuse; don’t let them leave with a parent who’s been drinking. But what can we, as early childhood educators, do to protect children’s developing brains from the toxic stress of living with this family disease?

Stay tuned. Imagination on the Move will explore research-based resources that will help build resilience and keep these children out of hot water as they play, create, and channel the phenomenal power of their imaginations.