This is the sixth article in the series about the Seven Essential Life Skills that children need to do better in school and in life, from the book Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky, PhD. Decades of research into early learning and child brain development has been extensively reviewed and distilled into the book, which outlines the developmental and neurological premise behind each skill and pairs them with real-world practices. The skills are based in the science of executive functions, a set of cognitive abilities that reside in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (the goal-driven area of the brain which manages attention, emotions, and behavior).
Dr. Galinsky reveals that building social and emotional skills along with intellectual competencies in the preschool years gives children the tools to grow into their full potential and become compassionate, capable and adaptable young adults.
Why Taking on Challenges is Important
Engaging in a new, different, or contradictory activity, or going to a new place can be stressful. Being confronted with a challenge or threat has a physical effect in our bodies: stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, shift the body’s resources from building up the immune and physical growth systems to strengthening for action. After the challenge is over, the body returns to healing and normal functioning.
The most notable factors that affect this response are the type and the longevity of stress. Not all stress is bad; anxiety before an immunization can be turned into a positive experience. Conversely, harmful effects of severe and very prolonged stress can include a decrease in memory, focus, self-control, and an increase in negative emotions.
A warm, caring, and trusting relationship with parents and other significant people in a child’s life can help the child be less prone to pressure, pull through challenging situations with greater ease, and have more control in stressful circumstances.
Although a child’s inherited biology is meaningful, the temperament of a child does not fully determine how the child will react to stress. Genetic make-up only gives the disposition to react a certain way. That’s why a child’s home environment is important. Less effective parenting styles in handling tension interfere with a child’s learning to self-regulate (e.g., the negative alarmist who sees danger everywhere, or the intrusive, overprotective parent).
Tools for parents
To foster a warm, caring, and safe environment to manage stress where challenge can be viewed as a positive experience:
- Manage your own stress and take time for yourself.
- Don’t shield your child from everyday difficulties. Not all stress is bad; it’s a necessary part of life. A sense of adventure is positive. Aid child in regulating temperament to take care of themselves.
- Develop a warm, caring, trusting relationship that helps a child feel safe and secure.
- Understand how child reacts to new experiences and regulates their response. Fortify strengths rather than focus on inadequacies.
- Adjust your expectations to fit the reality of who your child is, or change reality to fit the expectation, or both. If you love sports but your child does not, adjust your expectations and focus on other positive qualities.
- Give appropriate levels of control in handling stress. Set parameters or rules (“You can’t run into the street”), then let child manage stress within those boundaries. Hold them accountable if they do not comply or solutions do not work.
- Cultivate a growth mindset: we all have the ability to change and become smarter. When dealing with a set-back, offer an encouraging comment such as “try a different way”.
- Praise child’s effort and strategies, not personality. By establishing a belief that capabilities can always be cultivated and improved, child is more likely to want to learn and try harder.
- Model resilience: be proactive rather than reactive when problems come up. Children are likely to observe how parents handle their own difficulties.
Above all, keep in mind Dr. Galinsky’s mantra for parents: “…every day is a new day in parenthood: every day we can make a difference, despite what has happened in the past” (p. 267)
In the next post we will discuss the last skill in this lifelong process of continuous learning to achieve our full potential, Life Skill #7: Self-Directed, Engaged Learning.
ABOUT MIND IN THE MAKING: Decades of research into early learning and child brain development has been extensively reviewed and distilled into the Seven Essential Life Skills children need in order to thrive in school and in life. In her book, Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky, PhD, outlines the developmental and neurological premise behind each of the skills and pairs them with real-world practices to help children grow into their full potential. These seven life skills are based in the science of executive functions, a set of cognitive skills that reside in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (the goal-driven area of the brain which manages attention, emotions, and behavior).