Friday, November 16, 2012

Raising Resilient Kids

Wednesday we attended a webinar entitled:

We learned that kids need us to engage with them, understand their needs, and help them meet those needs in orderly and constructive ways.  We can channel their efforts in ways that decrease their vulnerability, and increase their resiliency.

We should reflect on the environment that we provide to our kids. Does it meet their needs? Can we improve the resources that we provide, and our habits about how we provide them?

The speaker talked about the three different imperatives in a child’s developmental process and how we can recognize what needs our children might be trying to fulfill through their behaviors and decisions:

1)      The Exploring imperative causes our kids to seek out novelty, and engage in risk-taking and experimentation. This is also called the “seeking system”.

Our kids feel naturally compelled to do these things, and if we teach safe and appropriate ways; they will learn initiative, ambition, goal-orientation, and how to make plans and act on them.

We shouldn’t down these natural and important imperatives. Instead, we should stay alert for opportunities to properly engage the urge to explore.  Enriched environments with plenty of opportunity for safe and age-appropriate exploration, and rewarding feedback are so important for properly directing these natural developmental impulses.

Can you think of ways to provide these opportunities to the kids in your life?  Every day we have opportunities to do so.  Sometimes, it is easier and less complicated to say “no, you can’t do that” rather than ask ourselves “what does my child want from this activity, and is there an appropriate and interesting alternative?”

2)      The Discovering imperative causes our kids to use their resources to acquire the things (both tangible and intangible) that they need and want from their environment. This is also called the “play system”.

Again, our kids feel a natural impulse to do this, and if they are encouraged and their activities are properly channeled they will learn industry, creativity, follow through, planning, and persistence.

Sometimes, when our kids are following their Discovering imperative, it is easier and quicker to just do stuff for them, tell them to wait to try to accomplish a task until we have more time or it is more convenient, or to say the task is not worth doing rather than to provide resources and guidance. Sometimes, when they fail, our first impulse is to focus on the failure rather than on solutions. If they want something, it is quicker and simpler to simply get it for them and provide it to them (or tell them “no, you can’t have it” or brush them off with “if you want it, find a way yourself”) rather than help them work out an appropriate plan and encourage them as they work through the steps of the plan.

A better approach is to stop and think about what they are trying to accomplish, and engage with them as they explore constructive solutions.  Model problem-solving, constructive responses to set-backs, show them that set-backs can be overcome, and that flexibility, creativity, and persistence will lead to a rewarding outcome.

3)      The Engaging imperative causes our kids to want to connect, contribute, and matter to their environment.  They want to feel like they belong, and that their presence and actions matter. It causes them to seek attention and affirmation.  This is also called the “care” system.

Properly channeled and supported, this imperative will result in a strong sense of identity accomplishment, productivity, generosity, and healthy involvement in community, family, and friendships.

This is an area where the littlest things truly matter.  Taking a moment in the morning to stop preparations for work for just a second to make eye contact and give a hug, ask how your child is feeling about school that day, if they have everything they need, offer a word of encouragement so they know that their efforts and struggles are on your mind. This can can set the tone for your child’s day.

Showing up at parent teacher conferences, proof-reading and providing feedback on an assignment, attending their sports games or band concerts, learning the names of their friends and their friends parents, posting a proud status update about their accomplishments on Facebook; all of these demonstrate their importance to you.

It is also important to give them opportunities to contribute. Give them tasks to contribute to the family or community, ask for their advice or input on appropriate topics (allow them to engage with you as you explore solutions your problems – just as you do to help them), delegate responsibility to them, and then tell them how their help made your life easier or improved your performance. Contributing will help them build a sense that they matter, their actions mean something, and they have an important place in the world.

Why is understanding these imperatives and their influence on our children’s decision-making and behavior important to their safety?

We can’t be with our kids all the time, and we can’t protect them 100%.  Even the children of the best and most attentive parents living in the most safe and secure neighborhoods with the finest most positive school environments, cannot be certain of 100% safety from bullying, grooming by a predator, luring, abduction, depression, running away, substance abuse, or other dangers.

The more resiliency that our children develop, the more likely they will be to recover from difficulties, set-backs, and traumas that they may experience despite our best efforts to keep them safe.

Also in part, because the skills and competencies that we work to develop in our kids make them somewhat more resistant to these dangers.

 If we give our children healthy alternatives to exercise their urges for novelty-seeking, risk-taking and experimentation, they are less vulnerable to the more harmful, less appropriate avenues provided by youth culture.

If they are channeling their urge to acquire and build in healthy and positive ways, and know that they can trust us to be present to help them overcome obstacles, they are less vulnerable to the damaging short-cuts that none of us want for our kids.

If they know they matter, that their presence in our family, community and friendships are important and valued, they are less likely to seek that sense of importance from people who will misuse it to manipulate and harm them.

We say LESS vulnerable because even kids with the best parents and support systems can be vulnerable.  

We can give our kids the best chance they can have to get beyond whatever circumstances arise in their lives. Our kids, families, and communities can be empowered to prevent harm to them.  And in the cases where prevention is not enough, we can be empowered to help the survivors recover and thrive.

You are not alone in this task.  Missing Children Minnesota offers educational programs for children of all ages, parents, and education and childcare professionals.  We can help you educate your children and/or the children you serve.  Call (612) 334-9449 to engage our help.

As an activity to demonstrate what we are talking about in this blog entry:

We have taken a partial list of “lures”, or ways that predators get kids to leave their safety zone, from our AMECO sister organization, Heidi Search Center.  As you look over the list, think about the developmental imperative that is being exploited in each of these lures. Children who are having their developmental needs fulfilled and properly challenged, and are educated about safety, are less vulnerable to these lures.

·         AFFECTION: Predators target lonely, self-conscious or unhappy children. If he can make your child feel important and loved, your child is more likely to go with him and keep secrets for fear of losing love and companionship.

·         ASSISTANCE: Predators know that children are willing to help others and use this for their advantage. They will often ask for help in locating a lost pet, finding directions or carrying something to their vehicle.

·         AUTHORITY: Children are very trusting of people in uniforms. They need to be taught that a uniform does NOT always make the person a police officer, fire fighter etc. They have the right to ask for proper identification or to ask another adult they know and trust for help.

·         COMPUTERS: Predators are using the Internet to meet children. They are able to lie about themselves in order to win a child’s confidence. If they can get your child to give them their real name, address or phone number, the predator will have a map to your front door. Monitor your child’s internet usage. Take advantage of available parental controls. Even monitor teenagers, they are just as likely to fall for the internet lure.

·         DRUGS: Predators use drugs and alcohol to attract children and weaken their resistance. This makes them vulnerable to molestation or attack.

·         EMERGENCY: This lure is designed to prey on your child’s emotions. The predator may tell your child you have been in an accident and are hurt. By doing this, the child becomes concerned for your safety and will let his/her guard down making them available to the predator.

·         GAMES: Games can be used to build your child’s confidence, gain their trust or make contact with the child. Video arcades and even games in your home provide contact.

·         GLAMOUR: Ego building is very effective. A beauty contest, talent show or photo shoot can provide an opportunity for a predator to make contact with your child.

·         COSTUMES: A super hero or clown costume may be all it takes for a predator to get close to your child.

·         INJURY: A fake injury can be used to gain your child’s sympathy and draw them close to the predator.

·         BRIBERY: Money or gifts are often used to buy a child’s trust or confidence.

·         JOB: A job offer should be carefully checked out before accepted. Talk to the person who wants to give them a job. Babysitting is no exception. Check carefully before putting your child in a potentially dangerous situation.

·         PORNOGRAPHY: Children are curious about sex. Talk with them openly about it. Otherwise a predator can use this curiosity as a means to expose children to sexual acts for the purpose of videos or photographs.

·         THREATS: When all else fails, a predator will threaten a child with violence against their family or pets. This is done to gain control and silence a child or get the child to leave with them.

·         ICE CREAM VENDORS: Accompany your child to the ice cream truck. This lure has been successfully used to abduct children.