Be a Charismatic Adult and Raise a Resilient Kid
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A 4-year-old comes home from daycare saying nobody will play with him. An 8-year-old cries over her math homework. A 12-year-old is upset because he’s not picked for the school play. A 16-year-old loses a track meet. These may seem trivial to an observer, but ask any parent, and he’ll tell you that his heart seizes to watch his child in emotional or physical pain—no matter how serious.
At the end of the day, parents just want their children to roll with the punches, to take things in stride, to work through their suffering—to be resilient.
Robert Brooks, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, has been studying resilience in children for the past several decades. Research in resilience primarily looks at children who grew up under great adversity—children who were abused or neglected, Brooks explains. “The research has really wanted to understand why some of these children did well in life while others did not,” he says. “I became fascinated years ago with the idea of taking the information we gather from these kids who’ve gone through great adversity and applying it to all kids.”
What the research shows is that there is a certain outlook resilient children have that enables them to live a more fulfilling life. Brooks, who coauthored the widely read Raising Resilient Children with clinical psychologist Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., says parents can nurture this mindset in their own children.
Research studies have found that adults who overcame adversity have at least one thing in common: someone in their childhood who believed in them and stood by them. Resilience researcher and psychologist Julius Segal called this person a “charismatic” adult in a child’s life. “He defined this person as ‘an adult from whom a child gathers strength,’” Brooks explains.
So, how can you be that charistmatic adult in your child's life? Here are Brooks' six key dimensions of charismatic adults (and resilient children):
Identify and Appreciate Children’s Islands of Confidence
Charismatic adults never deny a child’s problems or difficulties, but they also acknowledge a child’s strengths—their islands of confidence. Always begin with the strengths; then help to strengthen weaknesses.
Accept Children for Who They Are
We must learn to accept our children for who they are rather than who we want them to be, Brooks says. Children have an inborn temperament that parents must accommodate. “We know that some kids are born easier to raise, more difficult to please, more shy or cautious,” Brooks says. “We know that some hypersensitive kids cannot tolerate going into a loud supermarket when they’re 4 or 5 years old, for example. It’s parents’ jobs to accommodate their children’s temperaments.” And it’s important to understand, he says, that accommodating a child’s temperament is not the same as giving in. Don’t give in; instead, give choices.