As the light streamed into Starbucks, Tyra’s countenance radiated as she shared with me the freedom from addiction she had experienced. Ironically, that same week, I received a call from Michelle who had outwardly overcome great adversity, but was now facing possible incarceration. What happened and how did the trajectory so dramatically change for each? While the answer to these questions is complex, current research is supporting many of our former theories.
In a recent study, Seery and colleagues found that while people who had experienced many traumatic life events were more distressed in general, people who had experienced no negative life events had similar problems as their traumatized counterparts when painful events occurred. The people with the best outcomes were those who had experienced some negative events. Seery writes, “The idea is that negative life experiences can toughen people, making them better able to manage subsequent difficulties….people who get through bad events may have tested out their social network, learning how to get help when they need it” (Seery, M.D., Leo, R.J., Holman, E. A., and Silver, R. C. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 99(6), Dec. 2010, 1025-1041).
The implications of this research are enormous, particularly for us as parents. While we ache when our children ache, it is imperative that our children learn how to handle adversity while they are in the safety of our homes and with our nurturing support. I’ve talked to many parents who are crying out for tangible strategies to ensure their children weather the storms and thrive. Here are some suggestions:
(1)Spend time with your teen in mutually enjoyable activities. One of our favorite activities with teens in our Life groups is to create a Self Portrait Board. On the board, we answer the following questions with words and pictures: (1) Who Am I (2) Where Am I Going (3) What’s my Purpose (4) Why Am I Here? We have found that creating our own self portraits alongside the youth in our group opens up many conversations that would never have occurred without a centering activity.
(2)Serve others and build assets daily! Much research exists which links learning while serving to overall success and improved self-respect. Visit www.search-institute.org to learn more about the power of service learning and the importance of building developmental assets into your child’s life
(3)Model self-care, forgiveness, and boundaries. The most powerful voice in the life of your child is not your words, but your actions. Forgiveness coupled with appropriate boundaries is powerfully linked to overall physical and emotional health. Seek help from a therapist for both yourself and your child as needed.
(4)Teach the 100% rule: “I am 100% responsible for what I think, feel, do, and say.”
(5)Encourage and model any of the following in dealing with pain, anger, or stress: Praying, Crying, Meditating, Journaling, Exercising, and Artistic Expressions.
(6)Allow shared silent times as you talk through pain. As parents, we want to “fix” it, but your child is building his or her emotional muscles as they learn to work through their grief and pain. Never underestimate the power of your silence, touch, and compassion as you show them you believe they have the strength to overcome.