This content is provided in conjunction with This Emotional Life’s Early Moments Matter initiative.
Early Moments Matter is dedicated to making sure that every child has the best
possible chance at emotional well-being. Find out how to receive the Early Moments Matter tool kit and
provide one to a family in need.

This content is provided in conjunction with This Emotional Life’s Early Moments Matter initiative.
Early Moments Matter is dedicated to making sure that every child has the best
possible chance at emotional well-being. Find out how to receive the Early Moments Matter tool kit and
provide one to a family in need.

As parents, we want nothing more than for our children to
grow into autonomous, responsible, and happy adults capable of living an
authentic and purposeful life. Our relationship with them – described by
scientists as attachment – is the single most important modifiable
factor that will either support, or thwart them in reaching their full
potential. In this series of blog posts, we will explore a key way that this
attachment relationship supports maturation: the development of emotional
resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of
stress, adversity, and potentially traumatic experiences.
The intelligent design of nature has
built resilience into all of its life forms to help us survive. We human
beings, in addition to having this innate drive to survive, also have a
resilience that grows and develops over time, helping us to thrive. If
our children are supported in developing resilience, they will more commonly
experience a sense of well-being, become more courageous, and will experience
more fulfilling relationships. But most important of all, resilience is necessary
for our kids to reach their full potential.

Resilience is best thought of as the fruit of a
developmental process, rather than a fixed trait.

While it is true that we are all
born with a certain organismic desire to survive, and our inborn temperament
does play a role in our early capacity to function when facing stress, genes
and temperament are not the primary determinants of ones resilience.
The
resilience needed to thrive in this life are qualities and capacities that
develop over a lifetime. These capacities are best thought of as developmental
potentials
that emerge when our children receive the proper nourishment
needed for these hidden blossoms to bloom. Scientists have discovered that
certain kinds of relationships and experiences activate dormant genes that then
produce biochemical responses that culminate in the development of certain
traits, qualities, and capacities. It is through this experience-dependent
maturation
that our children develop emotional resilience, and our loving
relationship with them is exactly the nourishment they need. 

So if emotional resilience is something that is developed
rather than innate, what are the conditions that optimally support this
process?

Resilience develops most optimally when our kids have:

  1. Secure
    attachments
  2. Support
    for their emerging autonomy and desire for competence
  3. Guidance
    through vulnerable territory by loving and confident adults who are not
    afraid of tears

 

Nothing makes us heartier than love.
Research has shown us again and again that healthy relationships can
single-handedly confer resilience to human beings facing stressful and
potentially traumatic circumstances. Secure attachments – those relationships
where there is a consistent, warm, attuned, and responsive adult – confer the
greatest resilience to the developing nervous systems of our kids. Of the
children who grow up in the extremes of poverty, abuse, and neglect, the ones
who bounce back the best and somehow beat the odds are the ones with at least
one person in their life who cares for them and is available on a consistent
basis. It seems we are built by design to thrive in attuned and responsive
relationships. Love nourishes and buffers our hearts.

When we help support our children’s emerging desire towards
autonomy and competence, we also help them become more resilient.

Confidence arises from becoming more
and more competent in the many domains of our lives: learning, problem solving,
physical activities, social interactions, and regulating our impulses and
emotions to name a few. Children need their caregivers to provide the right
balance of space and support whenever the child faces a new challenge in their
lives. Sometimes we will need to just “sit on our hands” and be silently supportive
while they wrestle with a new problem. Other times they will need us to come
alongside them and provide a “scaffolding” for their emerging capacities in
order to help them succeed. When we see our child’s face brighten and exclaim,
“I did it!” we can’t help but feel proud. With this developing sense of
autonomy and confidence, our children will increasingly seek out challenges and
find their way through difficult problems on their own.

 

A well of emotional resilience develops from a deep and
sustained contact with vulnerability in the context of a safe relationship.

One of the most profound ways we can become resilient as human beings is by
entering the vulnerable territory of the human heart, feeling our “shaky
tenderness” fully, and then emerging out the other side more courageous and
hearty for having gone through it. This aspect of resilience is developed
through what Gordon Neufeld calls the adaptive process – the process by
which we are changed by those circumstances in life that we cannot change. We
all come up against experiences we would rather avoid, circumstances that evoke
difficult feelings like disappointment, sadness, loss, and powerlessness. But
it is precisely these circumstances – and more importantly our accepting of
them and the strong feelings they evoke – that allows the adaptive process to
cleanse our nervous systems and develop the muscle of emotional resilience.
When we allow ourselves to go from “mad to sad,” we become transformed in the
most inexplicable of ways. Children need their parents to recognize the healing
power of tears and to lovingly and confidently guide them through these secret
rivers of the human heart.

And so it is through this most important of all
relationships – the intimate dance between parent and child – that the seeds of
resilience are sewn. When our mere presence lights up the eyes of our loved
ones, when they want nothing more than to see us grow up and become fully
ourselves, we become buoyant and expand in all directions. Yes, we are
vulnerable. Yes, life is hard. And yes, here we are opening out and growing
anyways.

Early Moments Matter is relying
on our community to help build a movement and we’re asking for your help to
spread the word about this valuable resource. Get your award-winning Early Moments Matter toolkit that
introduces ways in which parents and caregivers can help their children build
secure attachments. Your simple act can help parents and families in need.