Resilience is important to our growth and survival. Yet resilience, we are told, is in decline. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point wrote in the New Yorker that contemporary western society overemphasises the psychological impact of adversity and turns people into victims. He reminds us that research shows that adverse childhood incidents do not have the huge negative impact we think they have. What does have an impact is neglect. When a child’s basic needs are not met over a sustained period of time, that does indeed blight their future life.
But while the notion of resilience may be eroding in various western countries, the reasons for this erosion may differ from culture to culture. For example:
- In the US, for decades now there’s been lots of interest in analysis and many people have recounted childhood incidents to their psychologists/counsellors. This may well have led to a culture which exaggerates the negative influence of external events and underplays the individual’s capacity to deal with them.
- In Australia we haven’t had the same emphasis on psychology but in some poor areas, we have had a proliferation of public services to address people’s problems. Such services might, unwittingly, undermine the resilience of the individual and encourage them to feel like powerless victims.
On the other hand research in America shows that 85% of parents think that praise is very important for a child’s confidence and performance. However, it is thought that constant praise could undermine a child’s natural motivation and resilience. So here are some helpful tips:
- Only give praise if it is truly warranted ie: for effort, concentration and good strategies – not for looks, talent, ability or intelligence.
- Be specific with your praise.
- Well-judged praise helps young people to learn what they are doing well and what they can build on.
- Don’t go over the top with praise, it can lead a child to feel anxious that they may disappoint you in the future.
- Praise that is unwarranted can be counterproductive and so it may be better to use encouragement instead ie: show that you feel positive about the child by being interested in them and their work. Rather than saying ‘what a wonderful drawing’ it is better to say ‘tell me about the person in the picture.’
- Recognise the effort the child is putting in.
- Ask questions about how they think they are doing; what help they may need; what obstacles they face and how to overcome them.
- Tell them that they are capable of learning with effort and concentration.
- Encourage them to be optimistic about being able to improve.
- It is normal for everyone to experience setbacks and challenges, do not try to shelter your children from these valuable experiences, allow them to overcome these obstacles, they were born to survive.
- Use language such as effort, perseverance, growth.
- Describe their behaviour not their personality ie: “you are working so well” instead of “you are so clever.”