By Robert Brooks, Ph.D.
My focus on the themes of hope and resilience arose from my interest in the area of self-esteem in children, as well as from the questions parents asked me. When I began to address the concept of self-esteem, many parents, especially those with children with learning problems, voiced concerns and anxiety about what the future held for their children. Some described portraits of their children that were very disheartening — low self-esteem, poor peer relationships, and failure in school. They posed such questions as, "Is there hope?" "Can my child become more confident and successful?" "Can my child develop more satisfying relationships?"
When I was training as a psychologist, I was taught that our basic personality is formed by the time we are five or six years of age. We now know a great deal of development and change take place after that age. We also know children who are burdened by learning problems and low self-esteem are not destined to lead a life of unhappiness and lack of success. In fact, many experience satisfying lives. They are resilient.
Two questions I have often been asked are: "What are the beliefs and skills resilient children possess as compared with those who do not bounce back from adversity?" and "What contributes to some children being more resilient than others?" The answers to both questions hold the key to how we can nurture self-esteem and resilience in children.
As my colleague, Dr. Sam Goldstein, and I describe in our book Raising Resilient Children, resilient youngsters possess a set of assumptions about themselves and others that distinguishes them from their peers who are not resilient. We have called this set of assumptions a "mindset." The mindset of children plays a major role in influencing their behavior, which in turn impacts on their mindset. Thus, there is an ongoing cycle that may produce a mindset that is more optimistic and hopeful or a mindset that is pessimistic and despairing. When we feel more hopeful, when our self-esteem is higher, we use coping strategies that lead to further growth. However, a feeling of inadequacy and pessimism often triggers coping strategies that are counterproductive or self-defeating (e.g., quitting, clowning, bullying, avoiding).
It is important to understand the mindset resilient youngsters possess so that parents, teachers, and other caregivers can attempt to nurture this mindset during all of their interactions with children with learning problems. The following are several of the key, interrelated components of a resilient mindset:
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