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Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope, and Optimism in Your Child

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Overview

Effective, proven advice for raising strong kids

"A uniquely wise guide for parents. Brooks and Goldstein help mothers and fathers to focus on their child's strengths, not on his or her weaknesses. The result is a happier, more resilient child. This book could really make a difference in the life of a family."
--Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain

"Obviously written by talented therapists, Raising ...

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Overview

Effective, proven advice for raising strong kids

"A uniquely wise guide for parents. Brooks and Goldstein help mothers and fathers to focus on their child's strengths, not on his or her weaknesses. The result is a happier, more resilient child. This book could really make a difference in the life of a family."
--Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain

"Obviously written by talented therapists, Raising Resilient Children is such a well-written, easy-to-read, and helpful book for parents."
--T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., author of The Irreducible Needs of Children

In this seminal parenting work, renowned psychologists Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein explain why some kids are able to overcome overwhelming obstacles while others become victims of early experiences and environments. From this research they have developed effective strategies you can add to your parenting practice to prepare your children for the challenges of today's complicated, ever-changing world.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A very important work. This not-to-be-missed book debunks the paradigm ('Good enough for me: I turned out OK') and replaces it with a new model fostering resilience capable of meeting obstacles head-on.
Publishers Weekly
. . the down-to-earth strategies ensure this title will be used as well as read . . . truly valuable material.
Work and Family Life
...a remarkable book that pulls together the research on resilience and makes it readable, understandable, and practical.
Michael Thompson
. . . help mothers and fathers to focus on their child's strengths, not on his or her weaknesses . . .
Edward Hallowell
. . . is both inspiring and practical. As both a parent and a child psychiatrist, I highly recommend this book . . . superb.
Melvin D. Levine
. . . will enable parents themselves to be resilient and to transplant this attribute into the minds and spirits of their offspring.
Myrna Shure
This is a must-read for any parent who wants their children to take control of their lives . . .
Barbara D. Ingersoll
When two such talented and experienced psychologists collaborate, the result is a book that . . . parents everywhere will want to read . . .
T. Berry Brazelton
Obviously written by talented therapists, Raising Resilient Children is such a well-written, easy to-read, and helpful book for parents . . .
Larry B. Silver
Each chapter describes a different guidepost and illustrates what can be done to foster psychological strength, hope, and optimism . . .
Emmy E. Werner
. . . current research on resilience with thoughtful recommendations for parents who want to help their children overcome the odds.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this practical handbook for parents, clinical psychologists Brooks and Goldstein draw on their considerable experience working with children and families to demonstrate that parents' core goal should be to instill in their children a sense of inner recourse. "A resilient child is an emotionally healthy child, equipped to successfully confront challenges and bounce back from setbacks," they contend, and to this end they provide 10 parenting "guideposts" for nurturing the kind of resilience that helps children thrive. From being empathic, to teaching problem-solving, to identifying "islands of competence" in order to help a child experience success, to editing and eliminating what the authors call "negative scripts" (what parents hear themselves saying and doing repeatedly, "with negligible beneficial results"), the guideposts are clearly delineated, first outlined in the introductory chapter and then expanded in individual chapters. In "Accepting Our Children for Who They Are," for instance, the authors discuss important abstractions--mapping out different personality types in children, addressing parental fears of being "mismatched" with their children--and then pack a practical punch with "Four Steps to Developing an Accepting Mindset with Your Child." An abundance of real-life examples encountered in the authors' own practices further helps to unite principle and theory with action, and while the subject-specific chapters encourage browsing, the down-to-earth strategies ensure that this title will be used as well as read. Though the book's straightforward, collaborative "we" yields a slightly lackluster voice, ultimately it doesn't impede the transmission of this truly valuable material. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
What's the difference between an irresponsible underachiever and a kid who bounces back after each setback and keeps on trying? It's the ability to be resilient, say Brooks (Harvard Medical Sch.) and Goldstein (Univ. of Utah; Overcoming Underachieving: An Action Guide to Helping Your Child Succeed in School) in this very important work. Resilience is the "capacity to cope and feel competent." In over 300 pages, packed with stories and anecdotes, the authors examine what makes a difference in kids' lives and how parents can change to get the results they want. Within each chapter, information is organized according to "Myths of...," "Steps to...," "Obstacles in...," and "Principles of...." The authors reject the blank-slate theory of childhood personality; rather, they claim that all children are not equal at birth and must be treated differently. They also argue that parents must change what they do with their children in order to turn unsuccessful "negative scripts" into positive experiences. This not-to-be-missed book debunks the old paradigm ("Good enough for me; I turned out OK") and replaces it with a new model fostering resilience capable of meeting obstacles head-on. Recommended for all parenting collections. Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809297658
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 183,467
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Brooks, Ph.D., on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, is one of today's leading speakers and authors on the themes of resilience, self-esteem, motivation, and family relationships.

Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., a clinical instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah and a staff member of the Primary Children's Hospital and the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, is one of today's leading speakers and authorities on child development and neuropsychology.

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Read an Excerpt

The Dreams and Wishes of Parents

What is it that most parents want for their children? Happiness, success in school, satisfaction with their lives, and solid friendships quickly come to mind. If we examine our parental goals, it would not be an oversimplification to conclude that realization of these goals requires that our children have the inner strength to deal competently and successfully, day after day, with the challenges and demands they encounter. We call this capacity to cope and feel competent resilience.

Resilience embraces the ability of a child to deal more effectively with stress and pressure, to cope with everyday challenges, to bounce back from disappointments, adversity, and trauma, to develop clear and realistic goals, to solve problems, to relate comfortably with others, and to treat oneself and others with respect. Numerous scientific studies of children facing great adversity in their lives support the importance of resilience as a powerful force. Resilience explains why some children overcome overwhelming obstacles, sometimes clawing and scraping their way to successful adulthood, while others become victims of their early experiences and environments.

In presenting the concept of resilience in this way, we believe that regardless of ethical, cultural, religious, or scientific beliefs, we can all agree that we must strive to raise resilient youngsters. However, knowing what needs to be done is not the same as knowing how to do it. Although many of us may increasingly view the world as a hostile place in which to raise children, a place in which even Beaver Cleaver would be at risk, the solution of constructing taller walls around our families and double locking the front door in order to keep out a seemingly toxic culture is unrealistic. Blaming the world around us, which we all are in fact a part of and have to some extent been responsible for shaping, as an antifamily, child-poisoning culture does little to relieve our ominous sense that great adversity awaits in our children's future.

As we watch, wonder, and worry about our children and ourselves, most parents agree that our children require a healthy dose of resilience but are uncertain where to begin. According to a recent USA/CNN/Gallup Poll, most parents concur that it is much more difficult today to raise children to be "good people" than it was twenty years ago (Donahue 1998, Id). Two out of three parents feel they are doing a "worse job." Seventy-five percent report that they are attempting to do things differently but are unsure what to do or if in fact what they are doing will be effective. Many hold out changing the world around them as the place in which the solution lies, yet feel overwhelmed with the daunting task of having an impact on a world moving at Mach speed.

No child is immune in this environment. In this fast-paced, stress-filled world, the number of children facing adversity and the number of adversities they face continue to increase dramatically. Even children who are fortunate enough not to face significant adversity or trauma, or to be burdened by intense stress or anxiety, experience the pressures around them and the expectations placed on them.

Thus, we believe that if we want to raise resilient children, we must not concentrate all of our energy on changing the world around us, but rather we must begin by changing what we do with our children. We must begin by appreciating that we can no longer afford the luxury of assuming that if our children don't face significant stress or adversity they will turn out "just fine."

Our contact with thousands of parents in our clinical practices and workshops confirms our opinion that the concept of resilience should take center stage in this process. Yet, our experiences also suggest that many well-meaning, loving parents either do not understand the parental practices that contribute to raising a resilient child or do not use what they know. Stresses as parents, "excess baggage" from the past, and lack of knowledge about new research pertaining to child development are just a few of the obstacles to engaging in the seemingly obvious practices that would promote resilience. Time and time again, our discussions with parents testify to this point.

Most parents are aware that children will feel more competent and self-assured if they're helped to navigate challenging situations. Yet, when Michael, a twelve-year-old, became frustrated while attempting to build a radio from a kit and walked away, his father, Mr. Burton, responded angrily, "I told you it wouldn't work. You don't have enough patience to read the directions carefully." While Mr. Burton knew that what his son needed at that moment was encouragement and assistance rather than criticism, his own frustration led him astray from a helpful response to one that actually weakened Michael's resolve to persevere with more difficult tasks.

Similarly, nine-year-old Jane came home from school in tears and sobbed to her mother, Mrs. Jones, that some of her friends refused to sit with her at lunch, telling her they did not want her around. Jane was confused and distressed and asked her mother what to do. Mrs. Jones knew that one of the most important skills that children develop, a skill that is a basic component of resilience, is the ability to solve problems on their own. However, rather than engaging her daughter in a dialogue about possible solutions, Mrs. Jones, feeling anxious, immediately replied that Jane should tell the other girls that if they did not want to play with her, she did not want to play with them. While this motherly advice may have been appropriate, quickly telling Jane what to do and not involving her in a consideration of other possible solutions robbed her of an opportunity to strengthen her own problem-solving skills.

While raising resilient children is a goal that should unite all parents, it is a process that is neither taught nor, until very recently, even highlighted for many parents. We believe that the absence of this concept in guiding our parenting skills has escalated the problems that beset so many children, leaving them unprepared to meet future challenges. A lack of knowledge about resilience may lead to parenting efforts that fail or even are counterproductive. Thus, the obvious and prudent course of parenting is often sidetracked by an absence of information as well as a failure to use the information available.

We believe that the concept of resilience defines a process of parenting that is essential if we are to prepare our children for success in all areas of their future lives. Given this belief, a guiding principle in all of our interactions with children should be to strengthen their ability to be resilient and to meet life's challenges with thoughtfulness, confidence, purpose, and empathy.

Although in some scientific circles the word resilience has typically been applied to youngsters who have overcome stress and hardship, it should be understood as a vital ingredient in the process of parenting every child. Each family develops unique goals and values based on myriad factors, but in the course of achieving these goals and living in concert with one's values, the principles involved in raising resilient youngsters can serve as guideposts. The process of teaching children about friendships, religion, athletics, dealing with mistakes, learning to share with siblings, and meeting responsibilities will be enhanced by an understanding of the components of resiliency.

Each interaction with our children provides an educational opportunity to help them weave a strong and resilient personal fabric. While the outcome of a specific issue may be important, even more vital are the lessons learned from the process of dealing with each issue or problem. The knowledge gained provides the nutrients from which the seeds of resiliency will develop and flourish.

This book is not intended to prescribe what values or goals to set for yourself and your family. Rather, it reflects our belief that if you set your sights on raising a resilient child, then all aspects of parenting — including teaching values, disciplining your children, helping your children to feel special and appreciated, assisting them to persevere, helping them to make decisions and to feel comfortable with those decisions, and encouraging satisfying interpersonal relations — can be guided by this priority. The chapters that follow articulate and explore the mindset of resilient children as well as the mindset of parents who focus on resilience, examining how this parental mindset leads to specific ways of interacting with our children.

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?

The Mindset of the Parent Who Fosters Resilience in Children

Parents who engage in the process of raising resilient youngsters possess an understanding that is sometimes explicit, at other times implicit or intuitive, of what they can do to nurture a resilient mindset and behaviors in their children. Such parents know about and appreciate the components of resilience, so that their interactions with their children are guided by a blueprint of important principles, ideas, and actions. However, grasping the complexities of this blueprint is an ongoing process filled with challenges, frustrations, setbacks, and successes. As one parent commented, "It might be easier if children arrived with an owner's manual or road map."

This is a thought that all parents have entertained at various times. It would be reassuring to believe in the existence of one set of operating guidelines, one direct course to follow, as we prepare our children for what lies ahead. Though some may wish for a true, proved, golden path to the future, that path does not exist. Nonetheless, we can be comforted by the knowledge that we have certain guideposts to help us traverse and appreciate each child's unique road. While each road is shaped by a variety of factors, including the child's inborn temperament, family style and values, educational experiences, and the broader society or culture in which the child is raised, these guideposts provide principles and ideas applicable for all roads and thus can direct us in raising resilient children.

This chapter describes each of the guideposts and how they shape the mindset and action of parents. The principles and actions in each of these guideposts are examined in greater detail in subsequent chapters. Remember that these principles and ideas shape parenting practices and beliefs that are important for all children, not just those who have experienced hardship, adversity, or trauma. The fast-paced, changing world of the twenty-first century requires that all children acquire the outlook and skills associated with resilience. Following is a list of ten guideposts that form the foundation for helping to reinforce the mindset of resilient youth. These may seem to be obvious, commonsense practices that most reasonable parents would follow without difficulty. However, as noted earlier, even the principles and practices of effective parenting that appear obvious require continuous thought and reflection so that we don't lose sight of what is truly important in our parenting behaviors. The guideposts embedded in the mindset of parents who foster resilience in their youngsters include:

—Being empathic
—Communicating effectively and listening actively

—Changing "negative scripts"

—Loving our children in ways that help them to feel special and appreciated

—Accepting our children for who they are and helping them to set realistic expectations and goals

—Helping our children experience success by identifying and reinforcing their "islands of competence"

—Helping children recognize that mistakes are experiences from which to learn

—Developing responsibility, compassion, and a social conscience by providing children with opportunities to contribute

—Teaching our children to solve problems and make decisions

—Disciplining in a way that promotes self-discipline and self-worth

Let's get acquainted with each of these parenting guideposts and the principles and actions they exemplify.

1. Being Empathic

A basic foundation of any relationship — parent-child, husband-wife, teacher-student — is empathy. Simply defined, in the parenting relationship empathy is the capacity of parents to put themselves inside the shoes of their youngsters and to see the world through their eyes. Empathy does not imply that you agree with everything your children do, but rather that you attempt to appreciate and validate their point of view.

While many parents believe that they are empathic, experience shows that it is easier to be empathic when our children do what we ask them to do, are successful in their activities, and are warm and responsive. It is much more difficult to be empathic when we are upset, angry, annoyed, or disappointed with our children. When we feel this way, even well-meaning parents say or do things that actually work against a child in developing resilience.

The following two examples capture the extent to which frustration can compromise a parent's capacity to be empathic.

John's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kahn, couldn't understand why their seemingly intelligent seventh-grade son experienced so much difficulty completing his homework. John was athletically gifted but had a long history of problems learning to read. His parents, observing John's lack of interest in school activities, believed he could do the work if he "put his mind to it" and frequently exhorted him to "try harder." They chided him as to how awful he would feel as a senior in high school when he was not accepted into the college of his choice.

In an effort to motivate John, his parents told him that he would not be allowed to participate in any after-school sports, an area in which he excelled, if he obtained a grade lower than a B. In telling John to "try harder," while perhaps well intentioned, they failed to consider how these words were experienced by John. Many youngsters who are repeatedly told to "try harder" hear these not as helpful words but rather as judgmental or accusatory, increasing their existing frustration with school rather than their motivation to succeed. Thus, the words the Kahns used worked against their goal to motivate John.

Sally, a shy eight-year-old, was often prompted by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carter, to say hello when encountering family friends. Yet, from a young age, Sally seemed anxious, fearful, and easily overwhelmed in new situations. She would hide behind her mother in public places or when strangers came to the house. The Carters couldn't comprehend why Sally appeared so nervous around others, especially since they saw themselves as loving parents. They told Sally that if she didn't learn to say hello, other people would not want to be with her. At best, Sally was able to glance down and whisper, "Hi."

Sally's parents, wanting their daughter to be more outgoing, failed to appreciate that Sally's shyness was an inborn temperamental trait and could not be overcome simply by telling her to "say hello" to others. Frequently reminding shy children to say hello can heighten their anxiety and increase their tendency to withdraw as a means of escaping an uncomfortable situation.

Parents who are empathic think about how they would feet if someone said or did the same things to them that they said or did to their children. If we are trying our best, yet struggling with an activity, would we find it helpful to have someone exhort, "Try harder!"? How many shy adults would welcome the advice to "go out and make friends"? If a child is shy, an empathic statement together with words of encouragement is more likely to lead to success, self-worth, and resilience.

For example, one father told his shy daughter that many kids find it difficult to say hello and that he would be of whatever help he could so that it might become easier for her to greet people in the future. Such a statement validates what the child is experiencing in a nonjudgmental way and offers hope for change. It creates a climate in which resilience is able to thrive.

We are often asked if people can increase their ability to be empathic. We believe they can. Parents can be guided by certain questions that help foster empathy, such as: "How would I hope my child describes me?"; "How would my child actually describe me, and how close is that to how I hope my child would describe me?"; "When I talk to or do things with my children, am I behaving in a way that will make them most responsive to listening to me?"; and "Would I want anyone to speak to me the way I am speaking to my child?" Parents who are able to go beyond their frustration or annoyance and ask these kinds of questions of themselves are practicing empathy, a key component of an effective parenting mindset.

2. Communicating Effectively and Listening Actively

Empathy colors the ways in which we communicate with our children. Communication has many features. It is not simply how we speak with another person. Effective communication involves actively listening to our children, understanding and validating what they are attempting to say, and responding in ways that avoid power struggles by not interrupting them, by not telling them how they should be feeling, by not putting them down, and by not using absolutes such as always and never in a demeaning fashion (e.g., "You never help out"; "You always show disrespect")

Resilient children develop a capacity to communicate effectively aided by parents, who are important models in this process. Mr. Burton's response to Michael's difficulty in completing a radio kit, "I told you it wouldn't work. You don't have enough patience to read the directions carefully," is an example of a message that actually works against the development of a resilient mindset since it contains an accusatory tone. The art of communication has important implications for many components of behaviors associated with resilience, including interpersonal skills, empathy, and problem-solving and decision-making abilities.

3. Changing "Negative Scripts"

The most well-meaning parents have been known to apply the same approach with their children for weeks, months, or years when the approach has proved unsuccessful. For instance, we know of one set of parents who nagged their children for years to clean their rooms, but the children never obeyed. From our discussions with families, it is evident that one of the main reasons parents continue to engage in unproductive behaviors is their belief that children should be the ones to change, not them. However, as many parents can attest, children will "outlast" us in that standoff.

A parent with a resilient mindset recognizes that if something we have said or done for a reasonable time does not work, then we must change our "script" if our children are to change theirs. We must have the insight and courage to think about what we can do differently, lest we become embroiled in useless power struggles.

Often a parent's negative scripts are based on "myths" or excess baggage that we bring from our own childhoods. An example is what occurred in seven-year-old Billy's home when he spilled a glass of milk for the third time in a week. The milk dripped over the counter and onto the floor.

His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Murray, although typically patient, became annoyed. His father said tersely, "Why can't you be less clumsy! You just don't seem to think about what you're doing."

Billy was hurt and embarrassed. He had not intentionally spilled the milk; it just happened. He promised his parents that it would not happen again and that he would be more careful. Yet, the next day, Billy spilled some juice.

Mrs. Murray took away the juice and said, "I hope that helps you to remember to hold your glass right!"

If Billy's parents had been aware of the significant temperamental differences among children, they might not have interpreted his continually spilling drinks as a sign of careless, willful, or oppositional behavior and might not have responded with punishment. A change in mindset would allow Mr. and Mrs. Murray to appreciate what hindered Billy from holding his glass and perhaps change their approach, including providing him a glass with a cover.

When parents change their own scripts, it does not imply "giving in to" or "spoiling" children; rather, it serves to teach youngsters that there are alternative ways of solving problems. If anything, it helps children learn to be more responsible and more accountable in handling difficult situations.

4. Loving Our Children in Ways That Help Them to Feel Special and Appreciated

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.

6. Helping Our Children Experience Success by Identifying and Reinforcing Their "Islands of Competence"

Resilient children do not deny the problems they face, but they recognize and focus on their strengths. Unfortunately, many youngsters who feel poorly about themselves and their abilities experience a diminished sense of hope. This often leads them to minimize or fail to appreciate their strengths. Parents sometimes report that the positive comments they offer their children fall on "deaf ears," resulting in parents' becoming frustrated and reducing positive feedback.

Parents must realize that when children have low self-worth, they are less apt to accept our positive feedback. We should continue to offer this feedback, but, most important, we must recognize that true self-worth, hope, and resilience are based on children's experiencing success in areas of their lives that they and others deem to be important. This requires parents to identify and reinforce a child's "islands of competence." Every child possesses these islands of competence, or areas of strength, and we must promote these rather than overemphasize the child's weaknesses.

Fifteen-year-old Laurie had difficulty getting along with her peers, but young children gravitated toward her. As her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Laramie, put it, she was the "pied piper" of the neighborhood. Given this strength, she began to baby-sit. As she developed confidence, she was more willing to examine and change her approach with her peers, which led to greater acceptance.

We also knew a boy with reading difficulties who discovered that he was "gifted" in artwork, especially drawing cartoons. His parents and teachers displayed his cartoons at home and school, an action that boosted his self-esteem and in a concrete way communicated that he had strengths.

When children discover their strengths, they are more willing to confront even those areas that have proved to be problematic for them.

7. Helping Children Recognize That Mistakes Are Experiences from Which to Learn

There is a significant difference in the way in which resilient children view mistakes compared with nonresilient children. Resilient children tend to view mistakes as opportunities for learning. In contrast, children who are not very hopeful often experience mistakes as an indication that they are failures. In response to this pessimistic view, they are likely to retreat from challenges, feeling inadequate and blaming others for their problems. Thus, if parents are to raise resilient children, they must help them develop a healthy outlook about mistakes from an early age.

Mr. Burton criticizing Michael for not being able to complete the radio kit and Mrs. Murray punishing Billy for spilling milk are communicating (perhaps without even realizing it) that mistakes are terrible and punishable.

Instead, in promoting a more positive attitude toward mistakes, it is helpful for parents to reflect on how their children would answer the following questions: "When your parents make a mistake, what do they do?" and "When you make a mistake, or if something doesn't go right, what do your parents say or do with you?"

In frustration, many parents respond to mistakes in ways that actually lessen a child's confidence. If parents are to reinforce a resilient mindset in their children, their words and actions must communicate a belief that we can learn from mistakes. The fear of making mistakes is one of the most potent obstacles to learning, one that is incompatible with a resilient mindset.

8. Developing Responsibility, Compassion, and a Social Conscience by Providing Children with Opportunities to Contribute

Resilient children possess a sense of responsibility. But how do we reinforce responsibility in our youngsters? Too often, we call the first responsibilities we give children "chores." Most children and adults are not thrilled about doing chores, whereas almost every child from a very early age appears motivated to help others. The presence of this "helping drive" is supported by research in which adults were asked to reflect on their school experiences and to write about one of their most positive moments. One of the most common responses centered on being asked to help others in some manner (tutoring a younger child, painting murals in the school, running the film projector).

Parents with a resilient mindset recognize that resilience and self-worth are enhanced when children are provided with opportunities to shine and taste success, especially by making a positive difference in their world. Parents who involve their children in charitable work, such as walks for hunger or AIDS or food drives, appreciate the importance of such activities in fostering self-esteem and a social conscience.

9. Teaching Our Children to Solve Problems and Make Decisions

Hopeful children with high self-esteem and resilience believe that they are masters of their own fate. They believe that they have control of their lives. Having and maintaining control over one's life is critical for all of us. When parents help their children learn how to make decisions and solve problems independently, they provide a vital ingredient in the process of developing that control. Resilient children are able to define problems, consider different solutions, attempt what they judge to be the most appropriate solution, and learn from the outcome.

If parents are to reinforce this problem-solving attitude in their children, they must be careful not to tell children what to do. Instead they must engage children in thinking about possible solutions. To facilitate this process, it is helpful for parents to set aside a "family meeting time" every week or every other week during which problems can be discussed and solutions articulated.

Recall that Jane, the child whose friends refused to sit with her at school, asked her mother what she should do. Mrs. Jones was well meaning, but by offering Jane a solution before asking her to think about what might help, she was depriving her daughter of an opportunity to develop problem-solving skills.

Here's a similar example: Barry and his older brother, Len, constantly bickered and argued. They fought about everything, including who would sit in the front seat of the car and which television program to watch. Len was frequently admonished by his parents to be more tolerant since he was the older of the two. They warned him that his failure to do so would result in his being punished. Len's response was to become distant and reject interactions with Barry. Asking the boys to come up with a solution to their fighting would likely have been more effective.

We have often been pleasantly surprised and impressed by the ability of children to think about effective and realistic ways of managing problems. When children develop their own plans of action with the guidance of parents, their sense of ownership and control is reinforced, as is their resilience.

10. Disciplining in a Way That Promotes Self-Discipline and Self-Worth

In our clinical work and seminars, parents frequently ask about discipline. To raise resilient children, parents must understand that one of their most important roles is to be a disciplinarian in the true sense. The word discipline relates to the word disciple and thus is a teaching process. We must appreciate that the ways in which we discipline our children can either reinforce or weaken self-esteem, self-control, and resilience.

While one of the main goals of discipline is to create safe and secure environments, another is to nurture self-control and self-discipline in children. This implies taking ownership for one's behavior. It is difficult to think of children with high self-esteem who do not also possess self-discipline. Family meetings, as suggested in the previous guidepost, can be used to engage children, within reason, in the creation of household rules and consequences so that they are less likely to experience rules as impositions.

Our Children, Our Future

While children come into this world with their own unique temperaments, parents and other caregivers strongly influence whether children will develop the characteristics and mindset associated with resilience or whether they will be burdened by low self-worth, self-doubt, and a diminished sense of hope. Developing a resilient mindset is not a luxury but an essential component of a successful future.

Subsequent chapters plumb the mindset of resilient children and the ten guideposts for parents to develop and reinforce this mindset. Chapter 12 looks beyond the home environment to the importance of parents and teachers working closely together so that the school setting can also reinforce resilience in youngsters. Raising resilient children must become a cornerstone in preparing ourselves and our children for the future.

Copyright © 2001 Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2006

    This book made a difference!

    I must say I'm tempted to give away every single other parenting book I own. This book is the first book to ever 'speak' to me. I've spent some time trying to figure out why this book touched me so much. It hit me - resilience is the BIG picture - I CAN operate and understand the big picture and then apply it to my life as a parent. I've spent most of my life as a parent searching for solutions to the little picture problems which change daily and spontaneously. I was never ready. Reading Dr. Brooks' philosophy made me want more than ever to adequately prepare my children for the joys and upsets of life and in two short weeks I'm beginning to feel prepared to do so. In the moments of chaos I feel more connected to the long term and my parenting has changed. Funny how my heart seems to have grown for our two adorable kids as well.

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