S.E. LIVINGSTON: Wondering how to grow resilient childrenWe suffered a detrimental fire in our home a couple of weeks ago. Everybody was safe, most of our stuff is wrecked; but again, everybody is safe. As of now, I don’t care about the singed wedding dress, charred antique study desk or smoke-damaged couch.
By: S.E. Livingston, for the Budgeteer
We suffered a detrimental fire in our home a couple of weeks ago. Everybody was safe, most of our stuff is wrecked; but again, everybody is safe. As of now, I don’t care about the singed wedding dress, charred antique study desk or smoke-damaged couch.
But as we parent our five children through surviving a fire, being homeless, living out of a series of hotel rooms and having their belongings destroyed or lost, it occurs to me that one of the most neglected lessons in the parenting books is also one of the most significant. The missing lesson is how to empower children to handle major life traumas.
The week before our fire occurred was “fire safety week” at school, and we actually DID make a fire plan. Although we didn’t end up using the plan, my kids had envisioned the possibility. But when is “coping with catastrophe week” at school? When can we prepare on paper how these little people can weather all the bad things that could happen in their futures?
What I’m looking for is what psychologists call resiliency. My mom called it coping.
Everybody needs these life skills, but as far as I know, there is no curriculum. The only school where one can get better at this is the school of hard knocks, which none of us choose to attend and actually spend as much money as we can to avoid it.
If resiliency could be taught, my generation of parenting peers would pay for it. We are all about exposing our kids to enrichment activities. We pay for art classes, sports camps, music lessons ... the list is as long as your credit card bill. However, I’m talking about the kind of exposure you can’t necessarily plan on or pay for.
As our family faces this life challenge (there was no tragedy, just a winnowing), I am watching my children to see if they are made of the right stuff to ensure their future survival. As our oldest daughter silently witnessed the burning of our house, I contemplated her stability. She gave me insight into her psyche on day four after the fire. “Can I stay home from school and help you guys make all these phone calls and notes? School seems mundane compared to this excitement.” There was the clue I was looking for. She wasn’t emotionally injured; she was looking at this as a fun challenge. She gave me further insight when she told me she was feeling okay about the fire because she was excited to “rebuild from the ruins.” As a student of history, she draws upon the scads of stories of how man gets up after being pushed down, and must be drawing a comparison.
In “A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit” researcher Edith H. Grotberg found that resilient children carry three tools with them: knowing who they are, knowing what they have, and knowing what they are capable of.
Some of this looks natural, like inborn wisdom, but some of it can be passed down by parents, like a faith system. Does a child know that he or she is loved and valued within a family or community? Does the child have an adult who will help her cope? Does the child have a strong sense of future which will help push him through difficulty and on to the next step? Does a child have the strength of a family tradition of belief in God which ignites hope and purpose?
A memory bank of positive family memories, a certainty of one’s value to others, and a belief in something bigger and better than one’s self is key in this lesson on resiliency. I am looking more carefully at the life we’ve modeled and the life we are living. I am watching my children to see if the tools we’ve given them will be enduring and empowering.
Today my family seems to be coping well. Even as I wrote this a loud squabble broke out over a tube of toothpaste. A few weeks ago they were squabbling over the Wii remotes. We value things differently now.