Resilience, the ability to overcome adversity, is not an innate skill or genetic trait. Resilience is the ability to recover after adversity strikes. None of us escape trauma, at some point in our lives, we will each face at least one overwhelming event that tests our capacity to recover.
Resilience is a quality that is developed from experiences where a person, even a baby, must deal with manageable stress and is supported enough to recover. It’s not a quality that you are born with, or without. So, when people say, “babies are so resilient,” they are saying something that is flat out wrong. Babies are adaptable, yes, but they need a consistent, loving, stable caregiver to build a resilient character. So, that means that we all have a responsibility to every infant to make this happen. This is how we build resilient people who will then create healthy, productive communities.
Resilience depends on many protective factors, like a loving caregiver. We also need to be put in place, rock-solid child-development information based on research, that parents can use to help them raise happy, healthy children. Currently, we live in a world where very competent parents are confused about the “right” way to parent, because we are not teaching people to parent the way we teach people to do other things, like driving or learning to read. We need to break the most difficult, not to mention the most important job down so that every parent can easily understand what to expect from each stage of development. This is complicated work, why do we leave it to chance? Why do we accept the comment, “I turned out fine, so my parents must have done a good job.” This is not about criticizing parents of previous generations. Maya Angelou taught us, when we know better, we do better. It is about sharing the trick and tools, so someone else can jump in and help when needed to support raising children in our community and society. We cannot leave that chance or we will end up with a world that looks and feels a bit like the movie, “Idiocracy.” The most important protective factor of ALL time is a loving attached relationship. This sets the stage for the strong foundation needed to overcome adversity that will strike at some point across the lifespan. The more protective factors that are consciously in place increases the capacity for a child or adult to overcome trauma and thrive.
Ultimately, the universal parenting desire is to raise children who are happy healthy members of society. We do this by weaving in protective factors needed to build resilience. There is no designated right way to raise our kids but we do have a solid body of research to use as a guide. For example, there is no question that providing clear expectations and predictability when parenting will strongly increase the likelihood that a child will be successful in accomplishing the task required. Important to note, that the child has to have the ability to do the task in order to be successful. So, let’s say you have taught your child (partner, roommate, friend) to load the dishwasher. Then you sit down and set up the expectation that your child will be in charge of unloading and re-loading the dishwasher at a certain time of the day. Have a discussion about why this important to you and get agreement from the child. That doesn’t mean accept refusal of this job, but it does mean that you need to discuss it until you both agree on a plan for getting this task completed regularly. Lastly, the parent needs to be consistent about the consequences of what will happen if the agreement is broken. The consequence cannot be corporal punishment. It can be, first a discussion about what happened and why did the task not get completed. Then the consequence could be that by not fulfilling the agreement, they need to take on one more task to make amends or make up for their mistake. Then once both tasks are completed, everything is good to go. That is predictable and if you are consistent, then the child will learn to expect the consequence. We all like to know what is coming, so this is a way to be respectful and responsible for raising a child without violence or anger. When we commit to raising children in ways that are supportive of development, respectful of our culture and guided by resilience, then we will start to see the next generations tackle some of the problems that have been created by feeling disconnected from family and community.