Showing 13 posts in Resilience.
Youth-serving organizations that are conscientious about background checks often overlook another important resource for screening staff, namely state child abuse registries. Most states have some sort of registry that compiles substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect. While the registries often are not open to the public, organizations that serve minors usually have some sort of access to them.
An interesting study from the Yale Child Study Center that works with parents instead of their children is being hailed as “an innovative way to address an epidemic of anxiety disorders” in children. While the findings certainly challenge conventional wisdom, they are not all that new. My grandmother and her mother before her would have recognized the principles.
I almost missed a very important article in Psychology Today, describing the serious challenges that colleges face in dealing with students who lack resilience to deal with everyday life:
Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.
The author, Dr. Peter Gray, believes that this trend is a serious problem:
I just ran across an excerpt from a new book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,” that I hope gets wide circulation. The author, Julie Lythcott-Haims, served as Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford, and believes that helicopter parenting harms children. The part that caught my eye was an outline of recent mental health research suggesting that overly-protective parenting causes significant mental health problems:
We are seeing significant changes in protocols for dealing with children with allergies. Traditionally, doctors advised completely avoiding allergens such as peanuts and pet fur. Now research indicates that, in some cases, limited exposure may actually help prevent allergies. The American Academy of Pediatricians issued an interim statement recommending that babies at risk for developing peanut allergies be given peanuts. Specifically, “Health care providers should recommend introducing peanut-containing products into the diets of high-risk infants between ages 4 and 11 months.” Of course, parents should consult an allergist to be sure that the child has not already developed an allergy.
Similarly, another study indicates that household pets can help boost children’s immune systems. The results are still tentative, but the study cites other research showing that early exposure to animals helps protect against respiratory allergies. The study’s coauthor concluded, that, at a minimum, avoiding animals does not prevent allergies. “If a family with a pregnant mother or an infant wants to have a pet, the family can be encouraged to have one, because the development of allergic disease cannot be prevented by avoiding pets.”
Day care centers, of course, cannot make these decisions on their own. But we can encourage our parents to be aware of the recent research, and to realize that mildly stressing a child’s immune system is an essential part of lifelong good health.
An important and fascinating analytical review from Canada concludes that risky play for children has significant benefits that outweigh potential harm. The researchers reviewed 21 academic studies of children, and concluded that giving children opportunities for risky play increased physical activity, social health, creativity, and resilience.
“Risky,” of course, does not mean unlimited. The review limited itself to activities “whereby a child can recognize and evaluate a challenge and decide on a course of action,” specifically excluding “hazards that children cannot assess for themselves and that have no clear benefit.” Thus, the article looked at play that included “play at height, speed, near dangerous elements (e.g., water, fire), with dangerous tools, rough and tumble play (e.g., play fighting), and where there is potential for disappearing or getting lost.” All of those types of play showed clear benefits, with risk of injury much lower than what adults assume.
Most people quite logically think of the impact of abuse on children as uniformly negative. Child Maltreatment, however, has a new study in which childhood survivors of sexual abuse reported both positive ("I am a stronger person") and negative ("I don't trust anyone now") changes in their lives. As you would expect, the study found more negative changes overall than positive, but it also found some promising possibilities for helping children recover from the trauma.
The researchers found that "although not frequent (13.9%), healthy processing strategies that involved effortful regulation of emotion and attention to abuse material were related to better adjustment." Accordingly, they recommend therapies such as trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) that encourage children to process the abuse rather than avoid reminders of it, and "foster a perspective that frames abuse as a part rather than a defining feature of youths’ lives."
Recognizing that abuse survivors often report positive changes afterward in no way justifies abuse. But it is important to recognize that victims are not doomed to a life of misery. As the authors of this study concluded, "Although not a panacea for the serious adjustment problems faced by many sexually abused youth, the ability to construct a life story that allows for positive meanings from a traumatic personal past may facilitate growth and resilience."
One of the hardest parts of encouraging children to take age-appropriate risks is overcoming parents' hard-wired instinct to protect their children from everything negative. We must communicate to parents the benefits of risky play, and reassure them that we are not exposing their children to unwarranted danger. Fortunately, we have help with the current emphasis on teaching children resilience.
Fortunately, we can channel our protective instincts into actions that can help our children. According to the American Psychological Association, “The primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.”
It's not enough to just recognize the benefits of risky play for children. We must valuate risks against a complex background of statutes, government regulations, and industry standards of care. Below are some examples of areas where we have to follow government mandates or industry standards, regardless of what we individually may think:
- Physical plant
- Sports safety rules
- Adult supervision – important guidelines are state licensing rules (if any) and industry standards.
- Staff screening – resources at Centers for Disease Control.
- Mandatory reporting of child abuse – ChildWelfare.gov
In areas where you do have leeway to allow risky play, follow some very important principles to be sure that the risks are reasonable:
- Always follow the safety standards in the field. For example, never shirk the skills tests for swimming. Be certain that your staff knows the proper standards, and monitor them to be sure they follow them.
- Be sure that the risks are age-appropriate. For most activities, there is a consensus among experts about the age at which children have the dexterity to start learning new skills and handle the risks of various activities. Know that consensus and follow it.
- Have supporting data outlining the psychological benefits of age-appropriate risky play and the dangers of too much safety. You cannot pull this out after the fact; you need to have at least some of it on your website and other promotional material from your first contact with parents and their children.
Following these principles will not immunize you from complaints, but they will help you defend your decisions to anxious parents.
A growing body of research argues that it is possible to keep kids too safe. As the New York Times recently noted about safety-first playgrounds, “Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries – and the evidence for that is debatable – the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.” One safety expert, Joe Frost, has said that adults mistakenly believe “that children must somehow be sheltered from all risks of injury. In the real world, life is filled with risks—financial, physical, emotional, social—and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development.”
The process, according to Dan Kindlon, a child psychologist and Harvard lecturer, is similar to how a child’s immune system develops. “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle.” Without that low-level exposure at early ages, researcher Chris Segrin notes, children have lower coping skills and “an exaggerated sense of entitlement . . . which is a near lethal combination of personality traits."
We cannot, and should not, avoid the reality that some element of risk is essential to helping children overcome any fears they may have. When children gradually expose themselves to more risks, such as climbing higher in a tree, say researchers, they are using the same techniques that therapists use to help adults conquer phobias. Those same researchers said, ""[I]t is suggested that we may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play." In other words, if children don’t face those risks and gradually move upward, they will always be trapped within their fears.
Of course, as with immunizations, we do not want to expose children to high risks before they have the ability to handle them. The next question, and the subject of my next post, is how to let children test their limits while avoiding serious danger.
- Staff Training
- Child Protection Policies
- Protection Policies
- Speaking Engagement
- Risk Avoidance
- Child Abuse
- Criminal Law
- Mental Health Research
- Public Policy
- Employment Issues
- Zero Tolerance
- Child Witness
- Expert Witness
- Litigation (Discovery)
- Mandated Reporter
- Day Care
- Personal Injury
- Youth Camps