Building Resilience in Children with Challenges
An old man and a child went fishing on a river. No sooner had they gotten their lines into the water than they noticed a child floating down the river in distress. Quickly, they pulled the child into their tiny fishing boat. Soon another child came floating by, then another both of whom they rescued. The old man starting rowing toward shore when the child pointed upstream and yelled, "Wait, we have room for one more." To this, the man replied, "No, we must go ashore and find out who's throwing all these children into the water." This was the allegory Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. used to begin his presentation, "Developing Resilient Children: Changing the Lives of Challenged Children," at a recent Learning and the Brain Conference for educators and parents. His message? Creating resilient children requires a paradigm shift in our thinking. To really help them, he says, we need to focus on prevention, rather than on treatment alone, which has traditionally used a wait-and-see approach.
"Our kids are falling into the 'river' at a rate faster than we can pull them out," says Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Attention Disorders and co-author of two books on resilience in children. This is an urgent matter, he says, especially because our children are experiencing greater rates of depression with each generation.
A concept with increasing relevancy since September 11th, resilience implies an ability to spring back "to function competently under stress" to recover from setbacks, trauma, or adversity.
According to Goldstein, three powerful predictors of resilience are:
A temperament that elicits positive responses from others;
Family relationships that promote trust, autonomy, initiative, and connections, and
Community support systems that reinforce self-esteem and self-efficacy.
We can't do a lot about a child's temperament, but as parents and educators, we can do a great deal about the other two factors. Sure, genes play a role, but resiliency is not a rare quality that you either have or don't have. You can foster it. And, in Goldstein's view, "Environment trumps genetics for almost everything."
What does this all mean for our children with learning disabilities? Challenges can certainly chip away at their resiliency Children who lack the language, motor, memory, or other learning skills to easily negotiate everyday life can quickly sink into a defeatist frame of mind. When asked the definition of a good day, a young client of Goldstein's once responded, "A good day is when bad things don't happen."
"Children with developmental or emotional challenges become failure-avoiders when the well meant efforts of parents and teachers don't work," says Goldstein. "These children come to believe that they don't have control over their lives, that the world is unfair, that emotions get them into trouble, that they're dumb."
We can do better than this.
We can provide our children a toolkit of beliefs, values, and strategies to counteract these failure-focused attitudes. It requires that we adopt a "learning-to-ride-a-bicycle" mindset, says Goldstein -- a "Bell Curve Model" -- rather than one that immediately sees pathology in our children when something takes longer for them to do.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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