WHY SOME CHILDREN CAN THRIVE DESPITE ADVERSITY

Harvard University Graduate School of Education

The Science of Resilience

BY BARI WALSH, ON MARCH 23, 2015
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When confronted with the fallout of childhood trauma, why do some children adapt and overcome, while others bear lifelong scars that flatten their potential? A growing body of evidence points to one common answer: Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed rela­tionship with a supportive adult.

The power of that one strong adult relationship is a key ingredient in resilience — a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity — according to a new report from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a multidisciplinary collaboration chaired by Harvard’s Jack Shonkoff. Understanding the centrality of that relationship, as well as other emerging findings about the science of resilience, gives policymakers a key lever to assess whether current programs designed to help disadvantaged kids are working.

“Resilience depends on supportive, responsive relationships and mastering a set of capabilities that can help us respond and adapt to adversity in healthy ways,” says Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard. “It’s those capacities and relationships that can turn toxic stress into tolerable stress.”

As a growing body of research is showing, the developing brain relies upon the consistent “serve and return” interactions that happen between a young child and a primary caregiver, the report says. When these interactions occur regularly, they provide the scaffolding that helps build “key capacities — such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate be­havior, and adapt to changing circumstances — that enable children to respond to adversity and to thrive,” the report continues. The developing brain is buffered by this feedback loop between biology and environment.

But in the absence of these responsive relationships, the brain’s architecture doesn’t develop optimally. The body perceives the absence as a threat and activates a stress response that — when prolonged — leads to physiological changes that affect the brain and overall systems of physical and mental health. The stress becomes toxic, making it more difficult for children to adapt or rebound.

The experiences of the subset of children who overcome adversity and end up with unexpectedly positive life outcomes are helping to fuel a new understanding of the nature of resilience — and what can be done to build it.

Here’s what the science of resilience is telling us, according to the council’s report:

  • Resilience is born from the interplay between internal disposition and external experience. It derives from supportive relationships, adaptive capacities, and positive experiences.
  • We can see and measure resilience in terms of how kids’ brains, immune systems, and genes all respond to stressful experiences.
  • There is a common set of characteristics that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of ad­versity:
    • The availability of at least one stable, caring, and supportive relationship between a child and an adult caregiver.
    • A sense of mastery over life circumstances.
    • Strong executive func­tion and self-regulation skills.
    • The supportive context of affirming faith or cultural traditions.
  • Learning to cope with manageable threats to our physical and social well-being is critical for the development of resilience.
  • Some children demonstrate greater sensitivity to both negative andpositive experiences.
  • Resilience can be situation-specific.
  • Positive and negative experiences over time continue to influence a child’s mental and physical development. Resilience can be built; it’s not an innate trait or a resource that can be used up.
  • People’s response to stressful experi­ences varies dramatically, but extreme adversity nearly always generates serious problems that require treatment.

Additional Resources:

  • Read Part II of our exploration of resilience, about the public policy implications of our new understanding of the science of resilience.
FACULTY IN THIS ARTICLE
Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.

As director of the Center on the Developing Child, Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., is using the science of early childhood development to drive innovation in policy and practice, with the goal of transforming life outcomes for disadvantaged children and reducing the consequences of early adversity.

Nurturing Resilience: Reminding Ourselves What Kids Need

The Independent School Magazine Blog

We all agree resilience is a good thing. Essentially a synonym for pluck, grit, stick-to-itiveness, the ability to dust off one’s knees and get back on the horse or the bike or whatever threw you, resilience suggests positive adaptation, coming through a tough time, coping.

There are communities we point to as being particularly resilient — Sandy Hook, Connecticut, for example — and that’s the rub. To be resilient means a child has endured something horrific or, to a lesser degree, difficult. But there are opportunities that do not require suffering or loss or exquisite pain, and practicing the habit of resilience helps children learn to weather the storms that are an inevitable part of growing up.
The path can’t always be smooth; bumps and boulders help us remember that we are stronger than we know, more capable than we imagined. It’s hard to watch children struggle without jumping in to solve the problem.  But when we can avoid making that jump, we help them thrive. Here’s my own list of reminders to encourage resilience in our kids and in myself!
  1. Believe kids are capable and can manage without swooping in to “save” them. Communicate that you believe in her ability to solve a problem.  Answer when asked for help; don’t offer advice for what hasn’t been asked.
  2. Shut up and listen. Then ask: Do you want me to do something? If the answer is no, don’t do anything. Invoke the 24-hour rule before reacting. (As my mother used to say, things often really do look better in the morning.)
  3. In books and movies that you and your children or students share, talk about resilience — how did that character cope?  What would you do?  Invite problem solving about practical dilemmas into daily conversations.
  4. Let consequences run their course. As a parent, don’t try to soften the penalty for a daughter’s late assignment. As a teacher, be firm, fair, friendly and consistent applying consequences. Never shame a child for work left incomplete or some other task left undone.
  5. Take lots of opportunities to talk about empathy, saying, “How would you feel if?”
  6. Make the adage that there are at least two sides to every story a mantra in your home and classroom.
  7. Consistently remind children in your care that even grown-ups make mistakes: we can learn from things that didn’t go so well — learn what to do the next time, learn about ourselves, learn that the sun doesn’t fall out of the sky when we mess up. Model making mistakes so that your students or progeny can see your swift, un-martyr-like recovery.
  8. Kids need to dump: A college child calls, miserable; the parents are frantic — the next night Mom calls, worried, fretful — the child is fine. The storm has passed everywhere but at home as the parents nursed their distress. It is hard to remember that late at night.
  9. Things do blow over if we let them — it’s an art to know when to intervene and when not to.
  10. It’s painful for us to bear witness — we don’t like the feeling of “not doing anything,” but by allowing a child to take the time to work things out on her own, we are doing plenty.
  11. Champion risk taking as long as failure/consequences are neither life-threatening nor permanent.
  12. Kids feel good about what they can DO — chores, taking responsibility at home. They feel competent and needed doing laundry, walking the dog, cooking. Don’t let them off the hook.
  13. As much as I want to swoop in and make my son practice his math facts, I must remind myself that HE is the one who must do the work.  It doesn’t help him develop resilience if I am more concerned about his homework than he is.  When I step back, I help him take charge.  If I do things for him, I cut him off at the knees.
  14. We can’t stand by our children’s side and give them everything — it encourages helplessness, at best, and entitlement, at worst. Our superb schools abound in opportunity. Encourage, suggest, wonder, but allow the student to select what activities to pursue. Resist prescribing. Some things will not go well or be enjoyable — make a contract ahead of time about how long a commitment must be sustained.
  15. From time to time, when the stakes are not enormously high, we must allow students to falter while we stay quiet, watching and listening and breathing — we can’t save them from themselves or their actions; they need to find out how consequences work for themselves — we can’t give them a heads-up about every possibility.
  16. Limitations (like those found in music, poetry) can offer opportunities for stretching boundaries and overcoming obstacles. In structure, there is often freedom — limitations encourage problem-solving and creativity. Remind students that the struggle itself has value
  17. You can’t be a hero unless you go beyond yourself.
  18. Creativity, growth mindset, self-care, purpose, relationship are all components that help children cultivate resilience.  For more about this, check out Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls.
Resilience isn’t a race; we all make progress over the course of our lives.  When we cultivate resilience in ourselves, we help our students and children do the same.  Celebrate success but do not fear failure. It’s not the mistake that matters; it’s what we learn from it as we move forward that counts.

Ann V. Klotz is head of Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the founder of Laurel’s Center for Research on Girls.  You can read her blog on the Huffington Post or follow her on Twitter, @AnnKlotz.

Being 12

WNYC public radio is running an outstanding program this week titled “Being 12, the year everything changes.”   The series chronicles the unique challenges that 12 year olds face; I think you will find the segments both informative and entertaining.  Here’s a link to the series: http://www.wnyc.org/series/being12/

Overindulgent Parents May Breed Narcissistic Children

HealthDay

Kids who were told they were better than others came to believe it, researchers report

Overindulgent Parents May Breed Narcissistic Children

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Kids who think too highly of themselves likely developed their narcissism because their parents put them on a pedestal and doled out unearned praise, a new study claims.

Parents who “overvalue” their children — believing they are “God’s gift to man” — tend to raise youngsters with an overblown sense of their own superiority, researchers report in the March 9 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It comes pretty naturally,” said senior study author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “Most parents think their children are special, and deserve better treatment. But when our children receive special treatment, they become narcissistic and come to believe they deserve more and are superior to others.”

On the other hand, simple parental warmth can provide a child with an appropriate level of self-esteem, but does not lead to narcissism, the researchers found.

“It’s good to be a warm parent and a loving parent, but it’s not OK to treat your children as if they are better than others,” Bushman concluded. “Everyone we meet is better than us at something, and the fact that we’re all human beings makes us equally valuable.”

In the study, researchers evaluated 565 children aged 7 to 11 from middle-class neighborhoods in the Netherlands, along with their parents.

Parents and children answered a series of questions designed to assess a child’s narcissism and self-esteem, as well as a parent’s warmth and overvaluation of their child. Researchers administered the questionnaires four times over a period of 18 months.

The research team found that parents who overvalued their children — reflected in statements such as “my child is more special than other children” — did end up with children who were overly convinced of their own importance.

“I honestly believe one of the most dangerous beliefs that a person can have is that they are [more] superior than others,” Bushman said. “When people think they are superior to others, they behave very badly. It’s much better to treat everybody like we are all part of the human family, and are all worthy of respect.”

However, parents who offered simple warmth — reflected in statements such as “I let my child know I love him/her” — raised kids who had good self-esteem but a more realistic understanding of their place in the world.

“Warmth doesn’t produce narcissism,” Bushman said. “It produces self-esteem, without the egotistical part.”

Interestingly, the researchers found no link between child narcissism and a lack of parental warmth. That’s inconsistent with what psychology experts have long believed, which is that children who have cold parents put themselves on a pedestal to try and obtain from others the approval they didn’t find at home.

Although this study only showed an association between parents putting a child on a pedestal and that child being narcissistic, Bushman said the study shows how parents do their children a disservice by providing too much praise.

“In America, we have it all backward. We assume if we boost our child’s self-esteem, they’ll behave well. We assume self-esteem is the panacea for every ill,” he said. “Rather than boost self-esteem and hope our kids act well, we should wait for good behavior and then give them a pat on the back for that.”

Parents should support their children and praise even failed efforts, but they must make their praise appropriate to the situation, Bushman said.

“Don’t issue blanket praise that’s not contingent on behavior,” he said. “Praise them for trying hard, and encourage them to persist and not give up in the face of failure. But make praise realistic.”

James Garbarino, senior faculty fellow at the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University Chicago, warned that parents who treat their children as though they walk on water are setting them up to sink like stones later in life.

“It’s a good investment to temper narcissism, because otherwise you are setting your kids up for a big fall later in life,” Garbarino said. “Eventually, life shows you that you’re not that special. You’ve heard the saying, ‘Time heals all wounds?’ In this case, ‘Time wounds all heels.’ ”

However, Garbarino also pointed out that these findings probably only apply to middle-class kids. Children from poor or lower-class families also can grow up to be narcissistic, but the cause may be different for them.

“Those kids did not end up in this study, so you have to be careful about interpreting it,” he said.

More information

For more on narcissistic personality disorder, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Brad Bushman, Ph.D., professor, communication and psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; James Garbarino, Ph.D., senior faculty fellow, Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University, Chicago; March 9, 2015, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online

Could it be that the teaching profession isn’t pink enough?

US News & World Report

Two studies say more women would study math and science in college if there were more female math and science teachers in high school

Photo of Jill Barshay

Education by the Numbers

More girls might pursue science fields if they had more female teachers in middle and high school, two studies suggest (AP image of a middle school student, learning computer programing in Pennsylvania)

More than three-quarters of U.S. public school teachers are female. So it’s a bit surprising to hear an argument that there aren’t enough women in the profession. It’s kind of like saying there aren’t enough lawyers in Washington. But that’s exactly the case that two new research studies make for what’s needed to produce more women scientists and engineers in this country.

The studies suggest that if there were more female math and science teachers in middle and high school, more girls would study these subjects in college, and that providing female role models earlier in life — before students get to college — might be one of the more effective ways to encourage more girls to pursue higher level math and science. (“Science” broadly refers to all the hard sciences from computer science and physics to chemistry and engineering).

“A lot of the talk has been about trying to promote more female faculty in college. Maybe that’s misdirected,” said Tim Sass, an author of one of the studies and an economist at Georgia State University. “Maybe there should be more emphasis in hiring qualified faculty in the middle and high school level.”

While women dominate the teaching profession, they are somewhat less numerous among middle and high school math and science faculty. According to the Schools and Staffing Survey, conducted by the Department of Education, female teachers make up between 44 and 65 percent of middle and high school math and science faculty, depending upon the subject and the grade. Eighth-grade math teachers are 65 percent female, for example, but only 44 percent of 12th-grade science teachers are female.

The first study, “Growing the roots of STEM majors: Female math and science high school faculty and the participation of students in STEM” (referring to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), published Jan. 31, 2015 in the Economics of Education Review, looked at every student in North Carolina who graduated from a public high school in 2004 and continued on to a public college or university in the state. Researchers from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and Duke University had access to a trove of data, from the students’ middle school grades and high school transcripts to family income and school characteristics.

The researchers found that girls who went to high schools where at least 72 percent of the math and science teachers were female were 19 percent more likely to graduate from college with a science or math major than similar students whose only difference was that they went to a high school where only 54 percent of the math and science teachers were female.

The influence of female teachers was even stronger for high achieving girls — the ones who are most likely to have the preparation and ability to complete the demanding coursework of a science major. Among girls who scored at least 580 on the math section of the SATs, there was a 44 percent increase in the likelihood of graduating from college with a science or math degree if they had attended a high school where 72 percent of the math and science teachers were women, compared to a school where just 54 percent of the math and science teachers were women.

Boys, by contrast, were unaffected by the gender mix of their high school teachers.

Martha Bottia, the lead author of the study at U.N.C.-Charlotte, has also conducted interviews with dozens of science students, and said the high school experience is “what matters most” for pursuing higher-level science. “More than half of them make the decision (to major in a science or math subject) before they enter college,” said Bottia, explaining that science majors require more planning and preparation and a commitment to hard work. “It’s not like STEM majors go to college their first year with no idea what they’re going to major in and then decide to do physics.”

In humanities subjects, by contrast, freshman-year professors might be more influential than high school teachers in the selection of a major.

A second study looked at four years’ worth (or cohorts) of students in Florida from fifth grade through college graduation, and found that female math and science teachers as early as middle school make a difference in how many women pursue math and science in college. A still-unpublished working paper from this study, “Understanding the STEM Pipeline,” was delivered on Feb. 20, 2015, at a conference of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), a research consortium of six universities.

This data analysis showed that girls who had higher proportions of female math and science teachers in middle and high school were more likely to take one or more science or math courses during their first year in college. The author, Professor Sass, found that the probability of a young woman taking a math or science course in her freshman year of college increased by 3.3 percentage points as the proportion of female middle and high school teachers went from zero to half. To put that in perspective, that 3.3 percentage-point increase nearly eliminates the gender gap between men and women in the likelihood of taking at least one science or math course in the first year of college, according to Sass.

That’s important because young women in Florida perform nearly as well as young men in math achievement tests. But once they get to college, women are much less likely to take courses in the physical sciences in their first year, and less likely to earn a degree in physics or engineering, even after adjusting for pre-college test scores.

By contrast, Sass found that in college, women were just as likely to complete a major in a hard science whether they had been taught by male professors or female professors.

It does sound crazy, when a majority of K-12 math and science teachers are already women, that the solution to gender inequity in STEM fields might be to create an even more female-heavy teaching profession.  If you followed these studies to their logical extremes, we’d make all high school math and science teachers women.  Personally, I would still prefer to see more male K-12 teachers — because it might increase the prestige of the profession overall.

THE GROCERY LINE, THE SWIMSUIT ISSUE, AND KIDS

Girls Leadership

Simone Marean thinks we can turn Sports Illustrated Swimsuit‘s controversial cover into a powerful, teachable moment with our kids.

Sports Illustrated is doing us a big favor. Next week they are releasing a swimsuit issue cover that showcases such an absurdly unrealistic version image of “beauty” that can serve us adults as a teachable moment for us, and our kids. Because they are making sure that this image is everywhere, everyone will have the opportunity to join in. In her powerful post, Melissa Atkins Wardy shared Brendan Ripp’s intention, “Sports Illustrated has never tried to launch something this big in the experiential space.” Thanks, Brendan.

Given that we will have little choice but to see this cover in the grocery check out line, pharmacy cashier or convenient store, let’s seize the opportunity to help those youth who see this image learn just what this cover is and how it works. This isn’t to shame Hannah Davis for taking this modeling job, that is her adult choice, but rather prevent some of the negative impact that images such as these have on young people, such as the increasing early sexualization of girls.

*The full version of the magazine cover is shown below*


Here’s a conversation guide to help turn seeing this magazine cover into an opportunity to co-consume media together and connect through dialogue rather than giving the image power through silence. Please adjust to the age of your child:

ON OBJECTIFICATION:

Question (to ask your child): That’s a weird image. The magazine is called Sports Illustrated. Why would Sports Illustrated put a woman on the cover who isn’t playing any sport?

Talking Points (to weave into your half of the conversation):

  • Sports Illustrated tends to show men playing sports, and more often shows women not as athletes, but as something for men to look at. While the athletes (men and women) are shown doing something they practice, something they are really skilled at and enjoy doing, these images of women just capture what they look like. We don’t know anything about this woman, Hannah Davis.
  • When we look at people like this, we objectify them. Objectify means to degrade something or somebody to the status of a mere object.

Question: What is the difference between a person, a human, and an object, like a toy?

Talking Points:

  • An object is a thing. You can do whatever you want to it. It can be controlled, bought and sold. The difference is that person has thoughts and feelings. Actions impact them. You can’t and shouldn’t buy and sell or control people – this turns them into objects.
ON MEDIA LITERACY:

Question: Does this photo look realistic? How do they make photos look unreal?

Talking Points:

  • This is not a realistic photo.
  • Sports Illustrated used computers and software to change her image. They cut away at the edges of her image to make her smaller, they colored over her skin and face, to remove all her blemishes, wrinkles, and body hair until she doesn’t look like a living person any more. She looks like a doll.
  • Check out Dove’s Evolution video to quickly see how the photo editing process works.

Question: Why would a company, like Sports Illustrated, objectify Hannah?

Talking Points:

  • The more magazines they sell, the more money they make.
  • They believe that if she looked like a human person, people wouldn’t spend $20 to look at her, and that people are more likely to spend $20 to own an unrealistic, objectified image.
ON US:

Question: How does this image hurt girls who have no choice but to see it?

Talking Points:

  • The cover teaches girls that this is what “beauty” looks like, that this is what they should look like if they want others to find them attractive.
  • Since it is fake, it is teaching girls to see themselves more like objects to be desired (if they are skinny, busty and hairless enough) than like people.
  • Studies have shown that when girls look at photo shopped images like this cover, it takes one to three seconds for them to have a drop in their self-esteem. And, on average, girls are seeing almost 3,000 – 5,000 of these images a day!

Question: How does this hurt boys who have no choice but to see it?

Talking Points:

  • The cover teaches boys to desire girls as if they were objects.
  • This can make it harder for boys to be friends with girls and to understand that girls are people with feelings, interests, and thoughts.
  • It also teaches boys that “beauty” for girls is skinny, busty and hairless — like the magazine made Hannah look in this photo.

Question: So what can we do?

Talking Points:

  • You can see this cover for the laughable image that it is, turn it over so the person behind you in line doesn’t have to see it, not buy it, share your feelings online (#notbuyingit), scrunch up your face so you remember that you are fully a messy human person and go back to the important things in life, like how good that food in your grocery cart is going to be.