Real Kids in an Unreal World: Building Resilience and Self Esteem in Today’s Chaotic World

(The following is an extract from the book, Real Kids in an Unreal World: Building Resilience and Self Esteem in Today’s Chaotic World by Maggie Dent.)

Today’s modern world is so full of innovations, new knowledge and ways of doing things that we should all be in great shape! Unfortunately, we are not. Many parents and teachers are deeply concerned about our children and teenagers, and how they are struggling to manage or cope with the pressures of modern living. We have reached a new level of concern. Both research and statistics support the perception of declining health and well being for our young. Of most concern is the increasing numbers of children and adolescents who are succumbing to depression, emotional instability, mental illnesses, obesity and low educational and social competence. Today’s families are struggling.

This book explores how parents can ensure that their children become success stories, with abilities that allow them to become worthwhile adults. The ability to cope with and conquer all that life brings is built in the early years, at ages 0 to 12. This book shows how to build resilience and a positive sense of self in our children. We live in a modern world; we have destroyed the ‘whole village’ pattern of raising children. The parents now have sole responsibility to parent – rather than it being a collective responsibility. We are paying a big price for this individualistic approach to raising children.

Much of the damage done to young children is avoidable or preventable – however, let’s not disappear down Alice’s rabbit hole. There never has been a perfect way of raising children, even in a tribal context. Childhood is a journey and there is no perfect world – no perfect child, perfect parent or perfect way to raise a child. Families today live in a world of massive change and uncertainty. The reality is that parenting is now harder than it has ever been before.

Many of the pressures and challenges are invisible. What is helpful on one level can be destructive on another level, like with TVs, mobile phones, the Internet and MP3 players. Being affluent and having the ability to give your children the things you were unable to have as a child should be a good thing. Unfortunately affluence can create challenges to raising resilient children; more so than with financial challenges or adversity. The very experience of having to save for something, or wait for it, makes the receiving of what is desired so much sweeter. Being able to delay gratification is seen as a key quality for an emotionally mature person. Yet the ‘Y generation’ has immediate access to plastic credit, and the temptations that brings, before they have the maturity to manage the full consequences of their actions.

“80% of your chances of being successful in life have to do with your emotional intelligence rather than your cognitive intelligence.” Daniel Goleman.

We know more now than ever before about how the human brain develops as a child grows. This has massive implications for parents and parenting.

Are you interested in any of the following challenging questions?

  • How do you build the coping skills in your children so that, as adults, they successfully manage the continuous change occurring in their world?
  • What are some of the most important life skills to teach our children?
  • How do you best support a child to grow into who they are ‘meant to be’, not who you think they ‘should be’?
  • What attributes provide our children with mental and emotional well being?
  • How do you build character and social competence in children?
  • How can parents be mindful of ways to prevent their child attempting suicide, at any age?
  • What things can you do as a parent to build your child’s capacity to manage and cope while still allowing the child to have a childhood that is safe and life enhancing?
  • What things are really important to include in your child’s life, supporting them to grow into decent human beings who somehow or another make the world a better place?
  • What will help your child be a friendly, cooperative and caring human being?
  • What can you do to ensure that your child realises his or her full potential in life?
  • How do you ensure that your child develops positive values and a healthy sense of self?
  • How do you do all of the above at the same time as running flat out on the treadmill of work and raising children?
  • How can you enjoy your parenting journey more?

What is resilience?

Resilience refers to the ability to successfully manage your life and adapt to change and stressful events in healthy and constructive ways. In simplistic terms, it is our survivability, our ability to ‘bounce back’ from life’s experiences; both those that are advantageous and the really challenging, traumatic ones. Two other helpful definitions of resilience are provided by others.

Why is resilience so important in today’s modern world?

Young people have always needed effective coping skills; however the modern world is more challenging than ever before. It appears that many of our young people have fewer resources to deal with adversity than in previous generations. Our main concerns today involve the increasing numbers of young people who are aggressive, depressed and suicidal, and engage in maladaptive coping strategies such as substance abuse and anti-social behaviour.

The need to improve our understanding of resilience is essential for parents and carers of children. An understanding offers insights into how we can protect our children from the damaging effects of the pressures of our increasingly chaotic and uncertain world.

Today’s world is very different from that in which many parents were raised! With the enormous information explosion, technological advances, consumerism, and the rapid pace of life we seem to have created a unique disease called ‘modernism’. Rather than our youth being smarter and healthier, people working both in research and the health sciences are identifying more teenage pregnancies, depression, anxiety disorders, violence and illicit and social drug use. We have more family disharmony and homelessness. Literacy rates and school successes are also often reduced.

The most tragic example of low resilience is suicide, when an individual chooses to end his or her life because living has become too hard. That is why it is important to lift awareness in communities and homes about how we can build and enrich resilience in today’s children and teenagers. Overwhelmingly, research reinforces how crucial the early years are in developing life-long resilience.

Building resilience is a vital ingredient in our parenting, a process that directs our interactions as we strengthen our children’s ability to meet life’s challenges and pressures with confidence and perseverance.

“Thirty years of research tells us that resilient people are happier, live longer and are more successful in school and jobs, are happier in relationships and are less likely to suffer depression.” K. Reivich and A. Shatte (2002);

“Journeys from childhood to midlife: risk, resilience, and recovery”, E. Werner and R. Smith (2001).

Bonnie Benard was considered by many as the mother of the concept of building resilience. She worked with children who were at risk for many years. Bonnie decided that, rather than focusing on what was wrong in these children’s lives, she would explore what was working. What was helping them to cope with their very dysfunctional lives? With her innovative vision she identified protective factors. Communities could develop these factors to build resilience, especially in young people. The ‘10 building block model’ that is explored in this book as a way of building resilience in children is based on Bonnie Benard’s focus on protective factors.

The essential early years

The early years, indeed, right from conception, are incredibly important periods in which we can help our children to be better equipped to live in this chaotic world of continual, rapid change. Key building blocks can strengthen our ability to be resilient, to ‘bounce back’ from the bumps and bruises of life. These building blocks can create vital, protective factors that strengthen our capacity to cope, and especially to overcome adversity.

The early years of a child’s life have always been important. However, it is not only the child’s physical and intellectual development that is occurring rapidly, it is also his or her emotional and social development. Most of the important developments are imperceptible and are difficult to measure as they happen. Often the little things are the ‘big things’.

Today’s parents have many pressures and choices to make. Similarly, they are exposed to many conflicting theories about what is best for their children. Just take a look in any good book store at the range of parenting books, manuals and glossy magazines. Have you noticed how well groomed and fresh faced the parents appear in these parenting magazines? I am yet to see a picture of a parent showing obvious signs of sleep deprivation, carrying excess weight or having a frustrating parenting moment!  Then there are the celebrity parenting experts. They are giving advice about parenting and their children are still under 10 years of age! Sorry, but you cannot give any serious advice to the global audience until you have children over 23 years of age, when you can fully see the effects of your parenting in the early years.  

TV shows take parenting expertise into homes, everywhere! It is no wonder we have the notion that parenting is a type of competition. This is apparent with parents spending a lot of money on accelerated learning classes for children as young as 4 years of age. As I have already stated, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Perfection is a very unhuman thing and those people who have tendencies toward perfection will share this fact with you. Developmental aspects which impede mastery in some area or another can show up at any time in a child’s life. Today’s rapidly paced world is in a big hurry. It pressurises children, or their parents, to meet deadlines and learning targets, often before they are ready. Early failures can shape a child’s belief in his or herself and change their belief system for life, which may cause other psychological challenges later in life.

We all have moments when we show excellence and others when we are far from excellent. That is the nature of life. We all worry about how our children are going to turn out – and there are lots of children who worry about how their parents are going to turn out! You see, the finishing line is the moment when we expire the last breath from our body. Until that moment we are still working on making our way on this strange journey called life. Actually living and embracing all that life delivers, instead of worrying about what could and might happen, would help many people to enjoy life more.  Parenting is a bit like that too. What was insightful and wonderful for me about researching the model of 10 building blocks was to gain an awareness that raising healthy, happy children has not really changed, despite the changing world. Children still need the basics – plenty of loving interaction with significant people who care for them, interesting environments to explore, enormous amounts of play and opportunities to make mistakes and to learn from them. You don’t need a lot of money to raise children well – you just need to provide these basics.

Fortunately, with the advance of the neurosciences, brain research and other technology, we are now better able to understand what helps create better resilience in all of us. The early years, indeed right from conception, are unbelievably important periods in which we can help children to be better equipped to live in this chaotic world of continual and rapid change. The key building blocks strengthen our ability to be resilient, to ‘bounce back’ from the bumps and bruises of life. They are building blocks that are based on common sense as well as theory and research.

Characteristics of resilient people

  • An ability to bounce back and recover from almost anything.
  • Optimistic and flexible thinking skills.
  • A ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ attitude.
  • Seeing problems as opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Ability to hang in there, to persevere and persist.
  • A healthy and authentic self esteem.
  • A capability to set clear, realistic and attainable goals.
  • Having a healthy social support network.
  • Seldom dwelling on the past or the future.
  • Well developed emotional and spiritual competence
  • An ability to learn from previous challenges and mistakes.
  • A capacity for detachment.
  • A well developed sense of humour.
  • The ability to have meaningful involvement with other individuals and their communities.
  • Treat themselves and others with respect.
  • Good problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

10 resilience building blocks for children aged 0-12 years

  • Positive healthy pregnancy
  • Good nutrition
  • Safe, nurturing care within the circle of family
  • Plenty of play
  • Building life skills
  • Meaningful Involvement with positive adults
  • Clear boundaries
  • Absence of stress
  • Self mastery
  • Strengthening the spirit

This model outlines 10 essential building blocks – for 0-12 year olds – that build healthy self esteem and strengthen children’s ability to be resilient and bounce back from life’s challenges. These building blocks highlight the different areas that a parent, school or community can focus on in order to build resilience for life. Any of the building blocks will help, and the more you use the better! The only block that can be used only once is obviously the first, a positive, healthy pregnancy!

This excerpt of Real Kids in an Unreal World: Building Resilience and Self Esteem in Today’s Chaotic World by Maggie Dent has been published here with the author’s permission.

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