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It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Our country was built on resilient perseverance and our culture reflects it. That said, instilling these traits in our children really sets them up for a life of success and prosperity. Understanding resilience is the first step. How does it work and what can we do to healthfully steer the youth in the right direction?

“When faced with a tragedy, natural disaster, health concerns, relationship, work, or school problem, resilience is how well a person can adapt to the events in their lives. A person with good resilience has the ability to bounce back more quickly and with less stress than someone whose resilience is less developed.” – PsychCentral.com

Some people can deal with great pain, intense trials and immense hardship. Yet, even though these might present obstacles, they still move forward and persist. Inversely, others become paralyzed by these speed-bumps. They fall into depression, addiction and find themselves spinning into a spiral of failure. Why do some prevail and others fail when presented with similar struggles? It’s all about resilience and the way we neurologically handle stress. Frequently, these opposing traits are developed in childhood.

Resilience in the Brain

Before measures can be taken, we must understand how the brain works. It is important to note that no one is necessarily born with resilience. It is an amalgamation of thoughts, actions and behaviors that can be developed and learned. In his book Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time, Rick Hanson, PhD writes:

“You’ve heard the expression, “It’s the little things that count.” It’s more than a simple platitude. Research has shown that integrating little daily practices into your life can actually change the way your brain works.”

The brain’s ability to recover from upsetting events is attributed to signals that travel from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala and back. More activity in the left prefrontal cortex means less activity in the amygdala which means less dwelling on a negative emotion. 

If the signal between the two is weak, the amygdala is more active for longer. Think of it as a cup of water in the amygdala representing stress. If a straw leading to the cortex is thicker, the amygdala can rid of the stressful water quicker. Ergo, people with a stronger connection between the two are more resilient because they are not incapacitated by long-lasting stress caused by the event.

“The amount of activation in the left prefrontal region of a resilient person can be thirty times that in someone who is not resilient,” according to Richard Davidson, a neurological researcher.

Ginsburg’s Seven C’s

Naturally, starting positive habits that build resilience are most effective at a young age. It is impossible to shelter a child from the sometimes frightening world we live in. Between death, crime, terrorism and illness there are enough situations that require a neurological strength in order to persist.   Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., MS Ed, FAAP, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), along with theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) authored A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings. 

In his book, the doctor identified seven guidelines for parents to set the stage for resilient growth in their offspring. They are as follows:

Competence;

The feeling of hope in handling a situation adequately is pivotal for problem solving skills. Its development can be strengthened by helping children. Focus on individual strengths, highlight what will help them in each situation. This means you should allow them to make the decision themselves. 

Confidence;

Competence leads to a child’s they have the ability to overcome something, called. Build confidence by recognizing when they’ve done well, praising specific activities and making sure the child does not take on more than they can handle.

Connection;

A safety net is important in any risk taking and confidence building exercise. Creating close relationships and feeling a sense of community helps create strong values. Addressing conflict openly and  allowing expression of emotions. In addition to creating and utilizing a common area at home.

Character;

A robust set of values and principles help children learn the difference between right and wrong. By demonstrating how negative behaviors affect others and avoiding hateful or racist statements, you can build character in just about any child. Remind them that they too are caring and should remain as such, whether it is already clear or not. Make it so! 

Contribution;

Kids need to understand they have the power to make the world better. By demonstrating the power of charity and contribution, you build a source of purpose. Wether they continue the charitable habits in the future or not, the sense of purpose remains. And a sense of purpose increases the chance of getting back up if life knocks them down.

Coping;

Naturally, dealing with stress is important in order to overcome the test of life. Teach kids about dangerous behaviors but do not condemn or instil a sense of shame. Let them fall then, be there to model coping mechanisms. Learning to cope can make all the difference

Control;

By demonstrating the ability to control outcomes, children realize they can change bad situations. This sense of control helps alleviate despair and hopelessness, which can be incapacitating. This helps them handle fear and worry. Negotiating and strategizing when challenges arise is a natural resilience builder.

Unconditional Love Hypothesis

Since resilience and facing challenges go hand in hand, we must do all we can to build it up. Any discernible action requires confidence which is then required to face challenges. To create these values in children and teens, they must know they are loved.

“Unconditional love gives children the deeply felt security that allows them to take chances when faced with new situations,” says Dr. Ginsburg. “It gives them strength to know that you, their parents, are not going anywhere, that you love them no matter what. That security is the base from which they will launch into adulthood.”

It is important to note that unconditional love is not unconditional approval. We can love a child deeply while still disapproving of their actions. Behavior does not mean character. When a child receives this type of love from grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and any other guardian – security grows and the sense of safety net mentioned earlier strengthens. This sense is the building block for security. This can be easily discerned by asking any stranger how they build resilience. In all likelihood, the anecdote received will include a person whom they feel loves them unconditionally. 

“If one looks at what helps people to be more resilient, what helps our children to develop resilience. In every study that was done, you ask resilient people what has been most helpful to you, they talk about at least one person, one adult who really believed in them and stood by them and offered them unconditional love,” says Robert Brooks, PhD, author of Love & Resilient Mindset. 

In conclusion, we all have the power to ingrain these important characteristics in the younger generation. When you love someone unconditionally, it becomes a type of responsibility. Take the good with the bad but do your best to alleviate anything that could have an adverse impact on the ability to survive. In the end, resilience is survival and the one trait that every human IS in fact born with is the will to live. We need to do everything we can to keep it that way.

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