A lot of parents (and teachers) are concerned right now about children’s resilience. Will they ‘bounce back’ from the difficulties of the pandemic?
But is ‘bouncing back’ really the way we should be thinking about this? We have all been changed by the pandemic; shouldn’t we acknowledge this and see how we can be the best versions of ourselves, incorporating what we’ve been through over the last few years, rather than trying to ‘bounce back’ into what we were before (which frankly wasn’t all that amazing in a lot of cases, as we rushed from one thing to another with never any time for ourselves).
In this episode we also consider Black and Indigenous researchers’ perspectives on resilience, and see how their ideas can perhaps shift how we perceive resilience – and thus how we support our children.
Other episodes referenced
069: Reducing the impact of intergenerational trauma
140: Mythbusting about fat and BMI with Dr. Lindo Bacon
137: Psychological flexibility through ACT with Diana Hill
148: Is spanking a child really so bad?
098: Do school shooter trainings help (or hurt) children?
114: How to stop ‘othering’ and instead build ‘belonging’
074: Attachment: What it is, what it’s not, how to do it, and how to stop stressing about it
106: Patriarchy is perpetuated through parenting
Jump to highlights:
01:34 Defining resilience from various perspectives
03:16 Resilience requires exposure to some kind of threat or severe adversity
06:37 What a lack of resilience looks like and how to measure its absence
08:16 Measuring resilience in research
09:08 The challenge of defining ‘protective’ factor
10:00 The history of research on resilience
12:03 The importance allowing children to cope with mild stressors
14:40 The Indigenous resilience
17:17 The control and dominance of indigenous peoples in Canada achieved through education and immersion in settler culture
19:25 The importance of resilience culture in Indigenous communities
21:02 A model of resilience by Dr. Edith Grotberg
27:01 Resilience determined by the dominant culture’s expectations of normal, healthy, and good outcomes
30:08 The real purpose of resilience
32:18 What happens when a person isn’t deemed to be resilient and why that is
33:46 Resilience as a code for social compliance
38:59 What true resilience should be about (based on the story about the Claremont Counseling Center’s community building)
40:53 Wrapping up
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Block, P. (2008). Community: The structure of belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Grotberg, E. (1995). A guide to promoting resilience in children: Strengthening the human spirit. Early Childhood Development: Practice and Reflections Number 8. Bernard van Leer Foundation.
Gutman, L.M. (2018). Risk and resilience. Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809324-5.21835-X
Henderson, J., & Denny, K. (2015). The resilient child, human development and the “postdemocracy.” BioSocieties 10(3), 352-378.
Hess, J. (2019). Moving beyond resilience education: Musical counterstorytelling. Music Education Research 1`(5), 488-502.
Kirmayer, L.J., Dandeneau, D., Marshall, E., Phillips, M.K., & Williamson, K.J. (2011). Rethinking resilience from an indigenous perspective. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 56(2), 84-91.
Liu, J.J.W., Reed, M., & Girard, T.A. (2017). Advancing resilience: An integrative, multi-system mode of resilience. Personality and Individual Differences 111, 111-118.
Lopez, M., Ruiz, M.O., Rovnaghi, C.R., Tam, G.K-Y., Hiscox, J., Gotlib, I.H., Barr, D.A., Carrion, V.G., & Anand, K.J.S. (2021). The social ecology of childhood and early life adversity. Pediatric Research 89(2), 353-367.
Luthar, S.S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development 71(3), 543-562.
Masten, A.S. (2001). Ordinary Magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist 56(3), 227-238.
Masten, A.S.. (2021). Resilience in developmental systems: Principles, pathways, and protective processes in research and practice. In Ungar, M. (Ed.), Multisystemic resilience: Adaptation and transformation in contexts of change (p. 113-134). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Masten, A.S., and Barnes, A.J. (2018). Resilience in children: Developmental perspectives. Children 5, 98.
McCalman, J., & Bainbridge, R. (2021). Indigenous education, well-being, and resilience – a systemic approach. In Ungar, M. (Ed.), Multisystemic resilience: Adaptation and transformation in contexts of change (p. 199-219). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McGuire, P.D. (2010). Exploring resilience and indigenous ways of knowing. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health 8(2), 117-131.
Rutter, M. (2012). Resilience as a dynamic concept. Development and Psychopathology 24, 335-344.
Thomas, D., Mitchell, T., & Arseneau, C. (2015). Re-evaluating resilience: From individual vulnerabilities to the strength of cultures and collectivities among indigenous communities. Resilience 4(2), 116-129.
Traub, F., & Boynton-Jarrett, R. (2017). Modifiable resilience factors to childhood adversity for clinical pediatric practice. Pediatrics 139(5), e20162569
Solkoski, S.M., & Bullock, L.M. (2012). Resilience in children and youth: A review. Children and Youth Services Review 34, 2295-2303.
Wexler, L. (2013). Looking across three generations of Alaska Natives to explore how culture fosters indigenous resilience. Transcultural Psychiatry 51(1), 73-92.
Hi everyone, I am Denise, a longtime listener of Your Parenting Mojo. I love this podcast because it condenses all the scientific research on child development, compares it with anthropological studies, and put it into context of how I can apply all of these to my daily parenting. Jen has a wealth of resources here. So, if you're new to the podcast, I suggest you scroll through all her episodes. I'm sure you'll find one that will help you with whatever you're going through, or one that just piques your interest. If you'd like to get new episodes in your inbox, along with a free infographic on 13 Reasons Your Child Isn't Listening To You - And What To Do About Each One, sign up at YourParentingMojo.com/subscribe. Enjoy the show.Jen Lumanlan:
Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today we're going to talk about a topic that's really important generally in our lives, and even more so as we're emerging from a global pandemic. And that's the idea of resilience.Jen Lumanlan:
Firstly, we're gonna look at what resilience is and how it's classically defined and understood. And then we'll question some of those narratives and assumptions to arrive at a bit of a different definition of resilience that I hope will help you to see that your child is probably likely to be already in the process of developing quite a bit of resilience. And one of the most important things that we can do on this topic is to help others in our community create more of it for themselves and their families.Jen Lumanlan:
Now, I have to say that reading papers on resilience really does get kind of boring after a while because so many of them start out in the same way. They trace the historical concept of the term resilience as having originally emerged in engineering before entering into psychology, child development and psychiatry fields. And they usually spend several paragraphs describing how the entire field of resilience research is plagued by the fact that there really is no agreement on how to define resilience. Various authors describe it as being "associated with inner strength or resourcefulness and ability to bounce back following adversity or trauma," and as being connected to "a sense of coherence and social capital." Other authors say that resilient individuals, "achieve good outcomes in spite of serious threats to adaptation or development," and that "resilience is an interactive process of successful development despite adversity." It's seen as the ability to react and adjust positively and even potentially to bounce back when things go wrong, as resulting in good outcomes despite high risk status or sustained competence under threat or recovery from trauma. Australia's education policy defines it as, "the ability to cope and bounce back after encountering negative events, and to return to almost the same level of emotional wellbeing." There's usually some discussion about whether resilience is a personality trait that some people have and some people don't, and a resolution that it isn't a personality trait; it's a developmental process - but even so, it's generally seen as something that's located in the child and relies on processes like self-righting, an 'ability to respond with resourcefulness and tenacity,' just like the ever-popular grit and growth mindset.Jen Lumanlan:
For resilience to be present, the child has to be exposed to some kind of threat or severe adversity, and there's a lot of debate about what kind of threat and adversity, and how severe this needs to be for a person to be said to have resilience, and this is where things get tricky. There's the classic list of Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs that are generally agreed to be severe enough to 'count' as significant adversity - things like a parent's death or mental illness or imprisonment. Of course, ACEs were developed in the 1990s by studying people in San Diego, California who had health insurance through Kaiser Permanente, so it's highly likely the classic list does not reflect the types of experiences that people who don't have access to health insurance more typically experience. I've argued for a long time that racism should be an ACE, and my guest from our episode on spanking, Dr. Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, has written papers calling for childhood spanking to be classified as an ACE. The literature as a whole looks at risk in so many different ways. It can be very difficult to draw conclusions across studies - everything from measures of socioeconomic status, the number of difficult events over a period of time or a lifetime, massive community trauma, low birth weight, divorce and cumulative risk calculations that combine these different kinds of risk factors.Jen Lumanlan:
So obviously, there are quite a lot of potential factors that can cause trauma, and you might recall from our episode a while ago on intergenerational trauma, there's also a massive variability in how people respond to that trauma. A lot of the research on intergenerational trauma originated in studies of people who survived concentration camps in the Holocaust, and a good number of people who experienced pretty much the worst of what humanity can suffer went on to lead fulfilled lives, while others who had a comparatively easier time didn't fare as well afterwards. It became very clear the intensity of the trauma itself was not the only or even the dominant factor involved in resilience - there was something about the intersection of the trauma the person experienced, and their individual capacity to cope with it that determined their resilience. Dr. Ann Masten, who studied in this field for decades, wrote a seminal paper with a fantastic title: "Ordinary Magic." Her thesis is that in all of the research on resilience, the great surprise is that it's incredibly ordinary, and most of the time results from the operation of basic human adaptational systems.Jen Lumanlan:
Some of the traumas that people experience might not be foreseeable, but there are what researchers think of as risk factors - at the individual level these can include a sense of hopelessness, low self-esteem, and low academic expectations, and I'm sure you can see, we can pretty quickly get ourselves wrapped up in a cause-effect loop. And if we're looking out for things like low academic achievement, lack of commitment to school, and low self-esteem as indicators that resilience is not present, we need to untangle whether these factors were present before the disruptive event - so are these effects of a lack of resilience, or a cause of it, or both. Family level risk factors include an absence of parental figures providing expectations, modeling appropriate behavior, or providing emotional or financial support, and I'm going to leave that topic there for now and go back to it later, but the one thing I'll add here is that one researcher found during detailed interviews with patients who were said to be obese, revealed that they had often experienced abuse in childhood and that this abuse predated their obesity. As we discussed with Dr. Lindo Bacon, obesity isn't always, or often, or potentially ever, the person's root problem; and instead, in this case, it was a protective solution for their childhood experiences.Jen Lumanlan:
When we think about what a lack of resilience looks like and how to measure its absence, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised the list is fairly standard and focused on the usual suspects - what's called 'externalizing behavior' which parents will call 'acting out,' 'internalizing behavior,' which is depression and other forms of challenges that are primarily felt or thought about rather than acted out. There's the old reliable academic achievement in the form of grades at the younger ages, and number of years of schooling, and whether the individual is employed and in what kind of employment as they get older, and you can already tell what a person would have to do to be labeled as lacking resilience or possessing resilience.Jen Lumanlan:
Researchers working in the context of substance abuse and psychiatric disorders have focused on the absence or low levels of symptoms as the criteria for resilience, rather than the presence of social or academic achievements, while others look at both. Some researchers caution we tend to assume that if children aren't acting out, then they've overcome the adversity and they're fine, when it may be just that they're internalizing their feelings instead. For this reason, we should look for achievement across multiple domains rather than assuming that just because the child isn't acting out, they're OK - and they're getting bad grades because they're lazy. One researcher found that 2/3 of children they studied were academically resilient (notice the descriptor of the child as resilient rather than showing resilience), but only a fifth of them showed resilience in social competence. It's very common for children to look like they have things under control, but be struggling under the surface, so can we really call that resilient? In fact, the multidimensional nature of resilience where some children show competence in some areas, but problems in other areas, has led researchers to question the entire construct of resilience.Jen Lumanlan:
There is no gold standard for measuring resilience in research, which is a direct result of not having any comprehensive definition of widely accepted model of what resilience actually is, so the definition and the measurements vary pretty much across every study. We can measure it at a set point in time, like a snapshot of a person's situation, but their function is going to change as their perception of the situation and thus their adaptation to it changes. A child might look resilient today, but later on perhaps as more stresses are added, their ability to cope deteriorates. And we're only ever looking for things that are happening within one individual, and rarely how they interact with their community, even though researchers acknowledge that community interactions are a critical component of resilience. It's also entirely possible that we're actually looking at coping on a day-to-day basis, rather than adaptive resilience, and that we have a hard time telling the difference between the two.Jen Lumanlan:
Another point of confusion in this literature is what constitutes a 'protective' factor, or a factor that can make it easier to cope with adversity. Some researchers use the word 'protective' as describing effects involving interactions where a person with a particular attribute, but not those without it, were relatively unaffected by high levels of adversity. These attributes often include things like high self-esteem, an internal locus of control (meaning the child believes that they have some control over what happens to them), an external locus of blame (which means that they don't focus on themselves as the cause of everything that fails), optimism, determination, cognitive flexibility (which we covered in the conversation on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy with Dr. Diana Hill a few months ago), social competence and the ability to face fears. But others describe 'protective variables' as those that distinguish high functioning children at risk from those who developed serious problems.Jen Lumanlan:
So after some variation on this definition leading to what exactly is resilience, in the papers on this topic there's often a section describing the history of resilience research. Initial studies often took the form of descriptions of people whom researchers identified to be high risk, but who seemed to be doing OK and compared these with people who had similar risk profiles but were less successful, or people who had similar successes but lower risk histories. Studies of people who had schizophrenia were typical of this wave. Researchers were trying to find the factors that would account for the desirable adaptation in the face of adversity although given what we've already covered so far, I'm sure you can imagine this was going to be an uphill struggle. In the next generation of work, researchers tried to understand how these adaptations could contribute to resilience, and realized that while one stressor often didn't have a large impact on children, a combination of two or more stressors reduced the likelihood of positive outcomes for the child. A third wave of research then tested interventions to foster resilience in randomized controlled trials - and I will say there's a remarkable volume of these as well as studies spanning four decades that follow individuals' outcomes, in this field compared to many other fields that I look at.Jen Lumanlan:
A study following up with individuals who were first identified in the 1950s found that adolescents who had problems were able to "change the course of their lives in dramatic ways by making sensible choices and taking advantage of opportunities" - and these included things like continuing education, learning new skills, joining the military, moving to end relationships with peers who are seen as "deviant," and choosing healthy life partners. Researchers in this wave were concerned with the welfare of children growing up with the adversities and focused on promoting resilience through prevention, intervention, and policy. The current fourth wave of research aims to understand resilience in multi-level interconnected and complex adaptive systems, from the molecular to the sociocultural levels, although I would say we're only moderately successful at doing this at the moment, for reasons we'll get to in just a few minutes.Jen Lumanlan:
But first, we should acknowledge a particular difficulty in this research, which is that unlike with the research on spanking, where we can't say the little bit of spanking is a good thing, but anything excessive is harmful, a little bit of adversity actually IS a good thing. A lot of researchers describe this as an inoculation of stress that works a lot like a vaccine - so exposure to mild stress boosts immunity by exposure to manageable challenges. Not everyone agrees with the vaccine metaphor, but all researchers agree that children can and should cope with mild stressors, and even moderate stressors with the support of a caring adult. One researcher even says that school lockdown drills are a form of stress inoculation training. I guess it is in some way if it's sensitively handled, although it's often not sensitively handled, as we discussed our episode on school shooting drills a while back. We definitely aren't trying to remove all sources of stress from our children's lives and I 100% agree that children NEED to experience some stress. This is why helicopter parenting and lawnmower parenting have created so many children who struggle as adults, and whose parents call their child's professor to argue the child should get an A, because the child can't cope with doing the work, accepting the grade or doing any of the needed negotiation for themselves.Jen Lumanlan:
OK, so that's the basic state of the research on resilience. It's definitely mostly concerned with really serious kinds of traumas, not the low-level ones that many middle class children of the dominant culture face, like moving house or changing schools. But as I was thinking about this episode, I wondered: where are the indigenous people in this research? Where are the African Americans in this research? Why are White researchers studying indigenous and Black children and asking why they're struggling and how we can make them more resilient to life stressors when indigenous people and African Americans who are descended from people who were enslaved, are showing resilience simply by existing in life. You might remember a while ago, we talked with Dr. John Powell about the topic of Othering, which is where we think of people who are different from us as members of a group which essentially defines them. And I'm not sure I ever walked this line successfully enough for ALL of my listeners, but in this case, I think looking at groups of people is warranted: given that White settlers have practiced centuries of oppression of indigenous peoples here in the U.S. through genocide, forced displacement from their land, repeatedly dishonouring agreements and treaties, banning their cultural practices, family separation, residential schooling in often abusive conditions, and the list goes on, and this happened on a systematic level across interactions with every tribe, why are we looking at indigenous children and asking why they aren't more resilient? And of course, we could ask similar questions about people who are descended from enslaved African people.Jen Lumalan:
Indigenous researchers, mostly in Canada and Australia have actually been fairly active in the mainstream journals, so I was really interested to learn more about their concept of resilience. A really helpful paper by a group comprised of both indigenous and settler researchers led by Darren Thomas at Waterloo University in Canada observe that the standard concept resilience in the research literature considers resilience to be an individual trait; a predisposition to succeed despite adversity. They say, "It is our consideration this characterization of resilience fails to acknowledge the historical, political, social, economic and environmental realities of indigenous communities. We propose the indigenous resilience as exemplified in the persistence of cultures and collectives, rather than as traits of individuals. We critique the perspective of resilience that celebrates individual hardiness and successful integration of developmentally adaptive personal and social characteristics that are, in fact, largely out of the individual's control or access." Instead, they say that I'm going to quote again, "Indigenous resilience derived from indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and from cultural and ceremonial practices. We consider the community as our level of analysis, and social policy and social justice as the focus of intervention."Jen Lumanlan:
And they go on to critique the notion of bounce back ability that permeates much of what I'm going to call the settler theory of resilience. Because people change after experiencing trauma, they don't just bounce back to exactly what they were before - resilience involves a dynamic process of adjustment, adaptation and transformation in response to challenges and demands. If we focus on how some people have good at life outcomes, even though they've been as stressed as some other people who had less positive outcomes, were supporting a notion of survival of the fittest that doesn't work well with many indigenous peoples cultural values. When we see resilience is something that is within an individual, it's the individual's responsibility to navigate challenges. When resilience is within the individual, the State avoids being held accountable for ongoing assaults against indigenous communities, and at the same time makes it then individuals job to 'bounce back' from colonial trauma. The indigenous person is thus responsible for their own distress and disadvantage, and it's their lack of resilience - their weakness - that prevents them from failing to thrive in the environment of ongoing institutional racism and gross structural and economic inequalities. It's really a marvel of positioning when you think about it from that perspective.Jen Lumanlan:
Even though the Canadian government isn't overtly controlling the lives of indigenous peoples in Canada today, Thomas and his colleagues argue that the control and dominance of their internalized oppressive states is a constant factor, and this control was achieved through education - both formally in schools and informally through immersion in settler culture. Dr. Lisa Waxler, at the University of Massachusetts has interviewed three generations of Inupiaq people and Alaska for a study that illustrates this. She observed that cultural oppression was easy for elders to identify because it was institutionalized and systematic. Their connections to God, family and traditions provided a sense of connectedness and inner strength, which helped them to gain the Western skills they believed were necessary for their success.Jen Lumanlan:
The adults of the three generations described coming to terms with the cultural oppression the Elders had experienced and became determined to fight it. They saw themselves as culture bearers with a strong ethnic pride, who challenged the acceptance of the status quo.Jen Lumanlan:
But the youngest cohort experienced many of the same difficulties, but instead of drawing on visions of a shared past and future rooted in Inupiaq values and traditions, they saw their challenges as related to problems they were having personally and in their families. They saw culture as being a set of discrete activities and skills, not something that provided strength or guided their lives. They often described themselves as being overwhelmed and unable to access feelings of belongingness and support when they were far away from home. Dr. Wexler notes the youth understood suicide, substance abuse and violence as family issues reflecting unhealthiness or moral deficiency - so they had internalized the settler notion of resilience.Jen Lumanlan:
And just as a side note here, I've read thousands of studies over the years and I'm certain this is the first time I've ever read that "most interviewees refused a cash gift of $50 for participating." To me that really illustrates the transactional nature of these kinds of studies amongst settlers who don't know the researcher of any given study. They're just fungible participants as far as the researcher is concerned. But here the research assistant was an Inupiaq woman and the paper acknowledged the participants were interested in her and her life, even though they hadn't apparently known her before the study.Jen Lumanlan:
So the key to disrupting this settler-led control is reconnecting with Indigenous ways of knowing through collective and embodied memories, through traditions, through narratives that transmit and maintain and reclaim culture. Thomas says that "the resilience of cultures has enabled indigenous communities to survive, and will be the mechanism for them to achieve self-determination." In other research, Dr. Lawrence Kirmayer and his team at McGill University in Canada describes how the concept of resilience connects with a related Inuit concept that I can't possibly pronounce that is related to the English word 'hope.' So when faced with adversity, people talk of hope and wait for it to reveal itself. It doesn't always happen, but its potency as a life-giving force is never questioned. Dr. Kirmayer says: "Being animist at heart Inuit understand the world is shaped by powerful forces coming together - forces that are really beyond one person's control. Expressions meaning "cannot be helped" and "on its own will" reflect the Inuit recognition of human limitations. While these expressions may appear fatalistic, and you will appreciate that health and well-being depend not only on the body but also on the physical and social environment as well as cosmological forces. The Inuit concept of person can be described as both ecocentric and cosmocentric. Compared with the anthropocentric concepts common to Western traditions, in Inuit thought the person is not at the center of the universe, but is only one entity in a world of powerful forces. Inuit seek health through achieving the best balance or equilibrium among the forces in the world around the person."Jen Lumanlan:
Now, I have to say that while I've believed it for a long time, it wasn't until I read that paragraph that the phrase "science is only one way of knowing the world" really fully and completely hit home for me. Settler Canadians and Americans may indeed feel as though "cannot be helped" and "on its own" will go against everything they believe in. After all, aren't we the masters of our own destinies? Can't we achieve anything we want if we put our minds to it? When you think about it, there are a lot of things you can do to change your situation, but there's also a lot that's completely out of our hands. If we have a job, we're only ever one bad business cycle away from being laid off. If we have savings, we can sit on them and watch them effectively get smaller each day, or we can invest them and risk losing them all. And if we're lucky enough to live in the U.S., most of us are only ever one major medical emergency away from bankruptcy. When we look at it like this, suddenly "understand the world is shaped by powerful forces coming together - forces that are really beyond one person's control" doesn't seem so outlandish after all. Settlers perceive themselves - ourselves - to be at the center of the universe; after all, that's what gave us the right to settle around the world and take whatever we wanted from whoever we wanted. And science justifies our right to do this in the name of progress and prosperity. The Indigenous view helps Indigenous people to understand their place in an unpredictable world where much seems out of control, and it has helped them to continue their ways of knowing, despite facing almost impossible adversity.Jen Lumanlan:
I do want to detour here a little bit into a settler view of resilience that has really done a lot to shape the field so we can see how different this is from the Indigenous model. A well known and prolific researcher named Dr. Edith Grotberg developed a model of resilience in a PDF guide called A guide to promoting resilience in children: Strengthening the human spirit. It was written in 1995 but I still see it cited all the time in current papers, and she says that, "to overcome adversities children draw from three sources of resilience features labeled: I HAVE, I AM, I CAN. Perhaps you can also already see the subtle I-focused language in there - this is very much an individual's challenge. Dr. Grotberg finishes these I have I am I can statements with phrases that are relevant to a variety of different ages. And I'll give you a selection of some of my favorites:Jen Lumanlan:
I have people who show me how to do things right by the way they do things - because of course, the way parents do things MUST be the right way. There is no room here for the child to have any opinion about the right way of doing things. The next is, I have people who want me to learn to do things on my own. Because of course, we definitely want the young child on a path to independence as early as possible. I can control myself when I feel like doing something not right or dangerous. Of course, self-control is a skill that all young children struggle with, but with the application of enough self-control, they will still become a productive member of society.Jen Lumanlan:
The next is I have structure and rules at home which includes rules and routines the child is expected to perform. The limits and consequences of behavior are clearly stated and understood. When rules are broken, the child has helped to understand what he or she did wrong, is encouraged to tell his or her side of what happened, is punished when needed, and then is forgiven and reconciled with the adult. When the child follows the rules and routines he or she is praised and thanked. Clearly the behavior is the problem here and the child needs to get in line whether the expectations are reasonable or not. And this one actually gets even better when we get to the guidelines for older children - in the middle years the guideline says "I know the consequences of disobedience when in the course of discipline, I am not harmed or belittled. Instead, I am usually deprived of something I like or want to do. Sitting down for a short time on a chair or in my room seems to work so I can come down and maybe think about what I have done. My parents helped me to understand what I did wrong and forgive me and we are happy again," as if children really are thinking about what they've done and how wrong they were when they're in time out. By the late teens, the guide suggests the child negotiate a punishment with their parents - I'm just picturing the child having done something that indicates "I desperately need connection with you" and being forced to negotiate something to deny them that connection.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay, here's the next one, I am proud of myself. So the child knows he or she is an important person and feels proud of who he or she is and what he or she can do and achieve. The child does not let others belittle or degrade him or her. When the child has problems in life, confidence and self-esteem help sustain him or her. Of course, this is about as far from an Indigenous view of resilience as we can get - it involves puffing up yourself and superiority over others who might try to put you down. Problems are things that can be overcome by feeling good about yourself and your place in life and not by understanding how you fit in with everyone else and the universe around you.Jen Lumanlan:
At every age, the "I have" statements conclude with a variation on: "I have access to health, education, welfare, and security services" : "The child, independently or through the family, can rely on consistent services to meet the needs the family cannot fulfill - hospitals and doctors, schools and teachers, social services, and police and fire protection are the equivalent of these services. So the child is assumed to have access to healthcare and doctors, teachers social services, and the police are benevolent protectors in a child's life, rather than people who might themselves be a source of trauma.Jen Lumanlan:
All of this "I have, I am, I can" positioning is very much in line with our idea that a person has a unified coherent identity. And when we take an action is because we have agency, we have control, we're making a rational choice. The person who's exhibiting resilience is being independent, acting in their own best interests and their behavior reflects their internal state. Under this view, it's logical that resilience research is focused on the individual and their personal capacities, and responsibility to adapt, to cope, to succeed. All of this happens in the brain, the body has nothing of any value to contribute to the person's knowledge.Jen Lumanlan:
A non-resilient person exists in opposition to this norm - so people who are welfare recipients are usually viewed as lacking in some of these attributes - they're dependent, unpredictable, unable to act in their own best interests, which is why we have to restrict the choices available to them and create interventions to increase their resilience. So just like scientific research as a whole, resilience isn't a value free thing. When we're defining resilience, we are making judgments about what's normal and what isn't. And we're giving certain actors the authority to control and regulate what constitutes normal, healthy, and good outcomes, which usually end up being aligned with what the dominant culture thinks is normal, healthy, and good.Jen Lumanlan:
When we look at the criteria that settler researchers use to define protective factors yes, a sense of connectedness and belonging are often included. But the primary focus is on having agency, self-efficacy, problem solving skills, executive function, or leadership (whatever that means when you conflate those two into one phrase?) and optimism. This view of protective factors sees the individuals having the skills to overcome their traumatic experiences, rather than seeking a sense of balance among multiple forces. Researchers tend to focus on the achievement of specific developmental tasks, or the expected achievements of a given age culture, a period in history, and I'm going to quote: "In modern societies around the world, for example, young children are expected to form attachment bonds to their caregivers and learn to walk and speak the language of the family, and older children are expected to go to school, learn to read, get along with other people, and follow the rules of the family, classroom and community." If you heard my episode on Attachment a while back, you'll probably recognize how alarming that phrase "In modern societies around the world young children are expected to form attachment bonds to their caregivers" is, and how it represents a highly culturally specific view of the attachment relationship.Jen Lumanlan:
But the idea of following the rules of the family, classroom and community is what really gets me - that to be seen as a person who is 'doing well,' they essentially have to be abiding by society's norms and if they aren't fitting in with those norms, it's because they aren't resilient. The idea that resilience stems from "everyday magic" means that any parent who can't bring about this magic for their own child is risking that child's future achievement. One really good paper on this topic described a program in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the Aboriginal women on income assistance is positioned as the opposite to the resilient family. So-called 'resilience scientists' have mapped urban zones were "misalignment with human development sciences, reproductive and parenting norms, appears to be densely clustered." And by cross referencing these locations with known locations of Aboriginal children under state supervision, researchers produced a map identifying locations where they could offer voluntary parenting programs to women facing poverty, unemployment, and a justifiable fear of child removal. Once again, you have to appreciate the irony of settlers having spent generations suppressing Indigenous people's way of life as we've already discussed, and then turning around and critiquing them for not being resilient enough.Jen Lumanlan:
Because here's the real purpose of resilience. It's for preparing us to take our place in the machine that produces wealth for our country, and doesn't take wealth from it. That's why we focus on grades and externalizing behaviors, indicators and children because these are indicators of fitting into the system. Once education is finished, we looked at whether the person is employed or on welfare, whether they participate in or avoid criminal conduct. If they aren't a burden on the state, they're resilient, if they are a burden, they aren't resilient enough. And just like we discussed in the attachment episode, when we focus so heavily on the child, we create policies and interventions that are child-centered, rather than family-centered. We're looking at the child's optimal development, not the family's protection. And to the extent that we do look at families functioning, it's for the benefit of the child, and centered on the model of the nuclear family that's considered normal and settler culture, and it's assumed to be normal in everybody else's culture as well. It doesn't take into account the extended kin relationships that are more common in Black families, or genetically unrelated but still 'as close as family' support networks among immigrants, or with communities of people and with the broader universe among Indigenous people.Jen Lumanlan:
Because policymakers want to use only knowledge that meets the highest scientific standards to guide their actions, and because most researchers are White and get funding from organizations that are run by White people, and they're publishing in journals that mostly have White people on the editorial boards, and peer reviewing the articles before they're published, it's not surprising that research based on White ways of being in the world end up being reinforced as normal. Then once they're cemented as being normal, the State sees its role as acting to make investments in human productivity based on that normative model that promised to be cost-saving, and hopefully even profitable. If the State can intervene now and increase a child's resilience and get more employment and taxes out of them in the long run, that's a good investment.Jen Lumanlan:
But when our goal is to locate the mechanisms that bring about resiliency and measure them, and optimize them, we're distracting attention from the circumstances that require the person to be resilient in the first place, which might actually be worth paying attention to.Jen Lumanlan:
Because this is ultimately where I want to go with this episode - to look at what happens when a person isn't deemed to be resilient, and why that is. Essentially, when a person is described as not resilient, we're saying they aren't capable of functioning well in our society. And that's the fault of the person who isn't resilient and not the fault of society. There's no place for the non-resilient person - or anyone else- to say that it might be societal expectations that are out of line and not the resilient person. There's no place for the non-resilient person or anyone else to say that it might be societal expectations are out of line, and not for the person that we're deeming not resilient. So we might see drug use as a risk factor for difficult behavior. But we don't often look at the systemic oppression or social isolation that may lead to drug use. Hopelessness, low self-esteem, low academic expectations, these are all seen as things to be fixed without looking at root causes, because the root causes are irrelevant. Their responsibility for recovering from systemic oppression and developing resilience is the child's - they are the person with individual problems that need fixing.Jen Lumanlan:
Related to this many resilience based programs incorporate mindfulness practices - things like focused attention on the breath and the senses, awareness of thoughts and emotions, movement practices, and kindness practices. The literature supporting these interventions reports that students who use them feel calmer, less anxious, less reactive, and that teachers parents and students noticed increased attention and focus, and more highly teacher-rated behavior.Jen Lumanlan:
Now I practice mindfulness myself, and I've also done it with my daughter a little bit and I found it very useful in navigating my own life. But the focus on children being less reactive and receiving better grades from their teachers on their behavior, implies to me that this is being used in schools not to support resilience, but to actually make students easier to manage. It reminds me of the episode on grit where students are being encouraged to develop "grit" to overcome their challenges. As one author puts it, ""Grit" is a pedagogy of control that is predicated upon a premise made to poor children that if they learn the tools of self control and learn to endure drudgery, they can compete with rich children for scarce economic resources. Proponents of teaching "grit" contend the poor are biologically and psychologically traumatized by poverty, the trauma of poverty, they argue, can be overcome through learn self-control, and submission to authority within the school." So rather than address the oppressive conditions, we teach young people how to be resilient and to have grit so they will be compliant within the very system that's holding them down.Jen Lumanlan:
So in this way, the entire narrative around resilience is designed to keep people in line. If they submit to the system that's keeping them down, we say they're resilient. If they fight the system, we say they're deviant and they need to develop new skills. Resilience becomes a code for social compliance, and when we teach marginalized children to "be more resilient," we're really just trying to reduce the likelihood they'll express anger and frustration of being held down. Perhaps we are increasing their scores on standard measure of resilience like grades and employment but maybe what we're doing is decreasing their true resilience in favor of social compliance.Jen Lumanlan:
So when we try to teach executive function to children, when we give away books or small toys to young children during their annual well child visits to encourage their parents to read them and play with them, because we see, "compelling evidence of the high return on investing in early childhood, particularly for low-income children, including better health outcomes in adulthood, as well as better educational and employment outcomes and reduced risk for crime," we're playing into the structure when we say that children need to be able to plan their actions, and we measure this by whether they can plan a theoretical shopping trip through a map of a grocery store. We firstly devalue the life experiences of children whose parents don't or can't shop in grocery stores because there isn't one in their neighborhood. And secondly, we're assuming the child has experience with predictable and abundant resources that make planning useful. The absence of planning and an ability to think on one's feet is actually a more useful skill than the ability to plan when resources like money and food are only unpredictably available.Jen Lumanlan:
When we focus on only the child's outcomes, we ignore the rest of the family, especially the rest of the broader kin network when we're looking at both support stress structures and outcomes, we're playing into a racialized view of resilience. When we expect failure and look for the absence of failure as markers of success, we're continuing the narrative that some people are different and can't be relied on to be successful without outside intervention. When we only count the child's health outcomes, grades, employment and crisis history as valid outcome measures, we're buying into the idea that the only thing that matters in life is to get a good job, and make sure you're paying the State more than you're costing it. When we ignore factors like an understanding of the community's traditions, and the extent to which the individual feels a sense of spiritual development that is tied to their community, and their relationship was with the land and understanding their position in the larger scheme of the world, we're focused so tightly on metrics that matter so much less to our real wellbeing than these things do.Jen Lumanlan:
Now, not long before I started researching this episode, I was lucky enough to visit with my friend Brian and his family - Brian was the one who helped me to interview Dr. Carol Gilligan for the patriarchy episodes. And at the time, I grumbled that being in his home office was in many ways worse than having a conversation with him, because I came out with a massive list of books to read, one of which I was still reading as I began the reading for this episode. And so that book is called Community: The structure of belonging by Peter Block, and I will say it was definitely written by a White man over 10 years ago, and perhaps our understanding of humanity has shifted in that time but even given that caveat, I found a lot in it that was valuable. In one sidebar, the author describes the approach of the Clermont Counseling Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The center's mental health program serves clients who are labeled as paranoid schizophrenic, bipolar and delusional. And if the center is going to bill Medicaid for its services, it's required to certify each client's illness and define all of its services as "medically necessary." The director of the Center gave up Medicaid funding for the day treatment program, so she wouldn't have to put this deficit based labeling on the patients any more and put the clients in charge of the program. The patients were no longer patients but now members, and they developed a self-governing program.Jen Lumanlan:
In the first year they formed and chose an executive committee for themselves, volunteered their services in an animal shelter, set up a snack shop to generate funds to travel, prepared and conducted medication education for other mentally ill people in five nearby counties, gave a tour of their program to Ohio State legislators, and began training police on the nature of mental illness and how to safely and humanely approach people experiencing challenges.Jen Lumanlan:
So as I started reading about resilience, I realized that this story about the Claremont Counseling Center's community building was really about developing resilience. And I realized that resilience shouldn't be about developing executive function and doing well in school and earning money. Resilience should be about having the autonomy to decide what's important in life, and being supported and living in a way that's in alignment with those values. For some people that will be about making money. Many others may decide that if we think about it, making more money doesn't actually get us to where we really want to be. And if we can step out of the executive function - grades - employment - less criminality mindset that the State wants us to be in, we can actually decide what resilience means to us and work towards that. Sometimes resilience to us might look a lot like trying to break down the systems the State has put in place, because the only reason we think they're serving us is because we've never looked outside them to see what else is there.Jen Lumanlan:
So what I want to wrap up with is what all this means for my child, and for your child. I think the most important thing to take out of this is that human beings can cope with and have coped with a LOT, and if your child is lucky enough to have a parent who has the time and energy to listen to a parenting podcast on resilience, chances are they have a lot going for them already. They're going to stumble in life. They're going to have things happen to them that they find upsetting. They may even experience true trauma. But if they have at least one adult they can trust to support them, they're probably still going to be fine, and other than being there for them and truly listening to hear them (rather than trying to fix their situation), you probably don't need to do a whole lot. Resilience isn't something you need to teach your child. It's something they'll learn through knowing that you and the community around them, loves and supports them unconditionally, and through gently helping them to explore their own ideas and make their own decisions about what to do.Jen Lumanlan:
Next, I would invite you to ask, what does 'resilience' mean to you? I guess it's another way of asking 'what does a fulfilled life mean to you'? Does it really mean grades and earning money? Does it mean having a connection to other people around you and those who came before and will come after, and knowing where you're from and celebrating that while also celebrating your connection to the land you live on today, even as you acknowledge that land may well have been stolen from someone else? To me, it also means listening when people say they're struggling, and looking for the real reasons underlying those struggles that aren't tied to the person's weight status, or how they don't value learning are how they can't cope or whether they come from a broken home, which are so often seen as negative qualities that cause a lack of resilience, without seeing our own role in creating those systems in the first place. And to the extent that we can, fighting against their circumstances that hold people down, so we can all experience resilience in whatever way makes the most sense to each of us and to our communities.Jen Lumanlan:
So this episode didn't end up quite going where I thought it would when I started, but I hope it helps you to support your child and also work to support the other children and other families in your community as well. If you'd like to dig through the references and listen to the other episodes that I've mentioned here today, you can find them at YourParentingMojo.com/resilience.Denise:
I'm a Your Parenting Mojo fan, and I hope you enjoy the show as much as I do. If you found this episode, especially enlightening or useful, you can donate to help Jen produce more content like this, just go to the episode page that Jen mentioned. Thanks for listening.