A version of this chapter appears in the Handbook of Resilience in Children edited by Sam Goldstein and Robert Brooks, published in 2005 by Springer, New York, NY
The Power of Parenting
Robert B. Brooks, Ph.D.
I have focused for more than 20 years on examining the impact that parents have in nurturing hope, self-esteem, and an optimistic outlook in their children (Brooks, 1999; Brooks & Goldstein, 2001, 2003). My intention in this chapter is to examine specific steps that parents can take on a daily basis to reinforce a resilient mindset and lifestyle in their children. Before describing both the characteristics of this mindset and strategies to strengthen it in youngsters, I believe it is necessary to address the following two questions:
What is meant by the concept of resilience?
Do parents really have a major influence on the development of resilience in
What Is Resilience?
Resilience may be understood as the capacity of a child to deal effectively with stress and pressure, to cope with everyday challenges, to rebound from disappointments, mistakes, trauma, and adversity, to develop clear and realistic goals, to solve problems, to interact comfortably with others, and to treat oneself and others with respect and dignity (Brooks & Goldstein, 2001).
In scientific circles research related to resilience has primarily studied youngsters who have overcome trauma and hardship (Beardslee & Podorefsky, 1988; Brooks, 1994; Hechtman, 1991; Herrenkohl, Herrenkohl, & Egolf, 1994; Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990; Rutter, 1985; Werner & Smith, 1992). However, several researchers and clinicians have raised important issues, such as: “Does a child have to face adversity in order to be considered resilient?” or “Is resilience reflected in the ability to bounce back from adversity or is it caused by adversity?” (see Kaplan, 2004 this volume for a thoughtful discussion of this issue).
My colleague Sam Goldstein and I believe that the concept of resilience should be broadened to apply to every child and not restricted to those who have experienced adversity (Brooks & Goldstein, 2001, 2003). All children face challenge and stress in the course of their development and even those who at one point would not be classified as “at-risk” may suddenly find themselves placed in such a category. This abrupt shift to an at-risk classification was evident on a dramatic scale for the hundreds of children who lost a parent or loved one as a consequence of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Nurturing resilience should be understood as a vital ingredient in the process of parenting every child whether that child has been burdened by adversity or not.
Other mental health specialists have also expanded the definition or scope of resilience to go beyond bouncing back from adversity. Reivich and Shatte (2002) contend that “everyone needs resilience” and they write:
. . . resilience is the capacity to respond in healthy and productive ways when faced with adversity and trauma; it is essential for managing the daily stress of life. But we have come to realize that the same skills of resilience are important to broadening and enriching one’s life as they are to recovering from setbacks. (p. 20)