As parents, we naturally want to prevent our children from experiencing extreme adversity, but, try as we might, there is only so much we can do to keep them safe. Gifted children are often in educational situations that heighten their risk for adjustment problems because they have limited access to others with similar interests, ability, and drive or because they are not sufficiently challenged. The differences in their abilities and their heightened sensitivities can contribute to these problems.
A positive outlook on life is a hallmark of resilient individuals
Resilience in children has been researched for decades, so we know a lot about its characteristics and the factors that promote it. A powerful way to increase children’s ability to bounce back from difficult times is to strengthen these characteristics, model resilience ourselves, and help children build a strong social support network.
What are some characteristics of resilient people?
Resilient children have similar characteristics. Note how many items on the following list are common among gifted children, and pay particular attention to those that are true of the members of your family:
- compassion for others
- a sense of humor
- persistence in the face of failure
- moral conviction or a strong code of ethics
- an interest in spirituality or religion
- a respectful manner
- the capacity to get attention in positive ways
- the ability to plan ahead
- skill at problem solving
- a feeling of autonomy
- a positive outlook on life
- the belief that one’s effort can change things
- an interest in developing a special talent or hobby
- a flexibility in gender roles
What is the most effective strategy for building resilience? Do some of these characteristics contribute to resilience more than others? Which might make the biggest difference?
Help your child become more optimistic in response to difficulty
A positive outlook on life is a hallmark of resilient individuals. It is not what happens to us but our response to it that predicts our emotional health. Children can learn to be more resilient by becoming more optimistic in response to difficulty. Martin Seligman’s book The Optimistic Child includes a children’s questionnaire that can help parents determine how their children think about events in their lives. The questionnaire describes 48 brief situations and asks the child to choose one of two possible explanations for each. For instance, one item asks children to decide why a substitute teacher liked them; another asks them to pick an explanation for winning a game. More important, the book includes ideas, strategies, and activities you can use in your home to cultivate a more positive outlook in all family members. If you would like to know how optimistic you are, an adult version of the questionnaire appears in a companion book, Learned Optimism. Let everyone in the family fill out the appropriate questionnaire to discover how each person sees the world and to determine in what ways family members are more negative or pessimistic. Then make a plan to increase everyone’s resilience by increasing their optimism.
The importance of a long-term relationship with a caring adult
Although a positive outlook on life is important, studies suggest that the most important predictor of positive outcomes among children who face trying circumstances is a long-term relationship with a caring adult. To begin building resilience in your child, demonstrate the conviction that life is worthwhile and recognize and reinforce the qualities that enhance resilience. For example, praise effort rather than performance. Read hopeful, optimistic stories with resilient characters, and discuss the challenges they face and the choices they make. When something happens that is upsetting to your child, brainstorm many possible reasons for the situation to prevent your child from developing black-or-white thinking. Most important, do anything and everything to enhance your child’s relationships with caring adults.
This post has been adapted from an article by Maureen Neihart published in TIP’s Digest of Gifted Research.