Our children are inevitably exposed to attendant stressors, experienced anxiety and the weight of expectations...So how can parents help their children become resilient and thrive in this ever challenging environment like Singapore?
In today's fast-paced, stressful society, our children encounter various challenges in and out of school. Parents want their children to succeed and grow up happy, and typically their well-intentioned efforts are focused on the academic end of the equation - to the tune of S$1.1billion spent on tuition a year in Singapore. A questionable focus? Perhaps, although it is quite understandable because academic achievement is very often the most tangible issue that parents can 'deal' with.
But the stresses of a fast-paced environment like Singapore do take their toll. Even in the absence of any significant difficulties or trauma, our children are inevitably exposed to attendant stressors, experienced anxiety and the weight of expectations. Collectively, these can put immense pressure on young developing minds. So how can parents help their children become resilient and thrive in this ever challenging environment like Singapore?
Children who lack resilience may be overwhelmed by their circumstances, or use unhealthy ways to cope. They also tend to recover slower and may experience more psychological distress.
Resilience can be cultivated by...building competence and strengths into children that become protective elements against the stresses of the life challenges they will face.
Resilience: a learned behavior
In the 1950s, developmental psychologist Emmy Werner led a 40-year longitudinal study about resilience. Her ground-breaking research tracked the impact of environmental risks on about 700 infants. She discovered that a third of them remain unaffected despite harsh family circumstances of poverty, alcoholism and abuse, while the remaining two-thirds struggled through their teens and early adult years with behavioural, delinquency and mental health problems. The one third that remained unaffected exhibited particular personality traits such as optimism and sociability, or supportive community or home environments that benefited them. However, the most striking finding from the study concerned a significant number of the two-thirds of subjects who had initially struggled. By the time these reached their 30s and 40s, they had made remarkable recovery, gaining stability in their lives. The study found that the key factor leading to recovery was an active response to their negative circumstances, for example, by seeking out people and opportunities to help them effect a positive change in their lives. In short, they adapted and overcame the challenges of their earlier years.
Emerging neurobiology research is finally helping us understand how these two-thirds of the people in the study overcame their crushing circumstances to regain stability and satisfaction in their lives. Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, explains that the neural connections in our brain can be continuously forged, refined, weakened or severed. When we learn a new skill, new connections are made and strengthened as we spend more time practicing the new skill. However, the connection will become weakened, or even sever, if left unused for a long time.
So in the same way, resilience can also be cultivated by identifying key characteristics and intentionally work on building competence and strengths into children that become protective elements against the stresses of the life challenges they will face.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -- Nelson Mandela
Please contact Lee Sock Kuan (E: firstname.lastname@example.org) for references and questions for this article.
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About The Author
Lee Sock Kuan is a registered clinical member of the Singapore Association for Counselling as well as a Certified Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills with Play Therapy International. She works with children and their families on coping with stress, attachment, challenging behaviour and loss issues. She has received specialized training in play therapy, sandplay therapy, gestalt therapy, art facilitation, cognitive behavioural therapy, family therapy and emotional-focused therapy.
Read more about Sock Kuan
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