Teaching the brain to be resilient

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Heartache, adversity and failure can happen to anybody, at any age. But why do some people bounce back while others struggle? Scientists say the ability to adapt to challenges, or resilience, can be learned. Parents play a large part in developing the skills kids need to be stronger than ever before.

By the time preschoolers turn eighteen, nearly half will have experienced serious trauma, like divorce, poverty, violence, or abuse. Trauma may have no external signs, so for teachers and counselors it often means reading between the lines of bad behavior.

LaNail Plummer, a school counselor in Washington, D.C., explained, “When kids are disruptive, when kids are consistently aggressive, or have a lot of fear,” that could be signs that they have experienced trauma.

Kristin Anderson Moore, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized social psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She said chronic stress in the first few years of life slows down development.

Moore, told Ivanhoe, “Of course the brain is developing in early childhood so trauma and challenges are particularly important for young children. But we have found that children can bounce back.”

Research indicates a strong relationship with a parent or caregiver is key to building resilience. In one study, when confronted with a strange event, toddlers had less stress hormone activation if they had secure relationships with at least one adult.

“If they can show support, if they can provide a safe environment, and then help their child acquire the skills the child needs,” detailed Moore.

Those skills include the ability to plan ahead, regulate behavior, and adapt to change. Moore suggested parents listen carefully to a child’s concerns. Then show them how to react.

Moore said, “For example, if a child does poorly in school the parent might go in and talk to the teacher and learn what is wrong. If it turns out to be reading, the parent might take the child to the library and take out books and work on reading.”

Moore said while what happens early on matters, research also indicates that resilience can be developed at any age and adults who strengthen their coping skills serve as models for their children.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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