Have you ever thought about what you can do as a parent, aunt, uncle, special person in the life of a child to help them have a healthy, successful future? According to over 30 years of research, there are some very specific Positive Childhood Experiences kids need to succeed. No matter what a child has experienced. No matter the amount of trauma or negative experiences they have had. There are mitigating circumstances to help them rise above and to develop resilience. The more they have the higher their resiliency is likely to be. According to research, there are seven main areas kids need positive experiences:
They feel safe and able to talk to their family about feelings;
Their family stands by them during difficult times; They do not feel alone;
The child/youth enjoys participating in community events, traditions, experiences.
They feel a sense of belonging school;
They feel supported by friends;
They have at least two non-parent adults who take a genuine interest in them; and
They feel safe and protected by an adult in their home.
Talk about Feelings
Think about your own childhood. Were you able to talk to your parent(s) about your emotions? Did you know how to identify different feelings and emotions? How old were you when you understood the difference between mad and hurt? Or Angry and annoyed? Kids not only need a safe place to share feelings and emotions. But they need the words/language and the knowledge to self-identify how they are feeling.
For example, a child as young as 5 can identify that they are anxious, nervous, or worried? They can identify this through how they feel: tummy ache, heart racing, fidgeting, avoidant behaviors, among others. There are many great resources out there to help children identify behaviors and body feelings associated with emotions.
They are Supported During Hard Times
How many times have you seen parents get frustrated, angry, or even result in violence because a child is struggling? Families, including parents and extended supports, need to be there for kids. Kids need to know they have a soft place to land.
When kids are young, do parents understand how to tolerate crying, tantrums, and other difficult early childhood behaviors. Are they resilient enough to function when their kids are struggling? Do they know how to meet the child's basic needs or try to figure out what is wrong? Are the infant and toddler played with, cuddled, smiled at? Having positive playful interactions can build healthy attachments for the youngest of us. Feeling emotionally and physically safe in the world is a huge indicator of resilience. If a child knows what healthy relationships look like, they will know how to identify them.
The important thing to know here is that kids of all ages need to feel heard, loved, and nurtured. They need to have a safe place, even when they are the storm, the one struggling.
Involvement in Community Activities
Do kids have other activities they are involved in outside the home and in the community. Not just school, but sports, church, scouts? Having a positive community experience outside the home is a major protective factor. It provides kids a safe place, support system, and beneficial community interaction and relationships.
They Feel they Belong at School
One constant in most children's life is in school. The school experience has been found to have a profound impact on a child's resilience.
There is a direct correlation between a youth's felt support at school and their academic performance and behaviors in and outside of school. For example, if the youth feels like they are cared for and supported by their teachers and administrators, even if things are rough at home. They are likely to have higher grades, go on to trade school, community college, or university. If youth feel supported they are less likely to act out in a criminal way or to participate in other risky behaviors.
What can you do? Be their advocate at school. Make sure they feel supported, not only by the employees of the school but also that they have a group they belong with. The group can be one person or a handful. They need to feel a sense of belonging. You need to accept the person they feel closest to. A lot of adults will reject friends from school because they are not good enough or are "bad kids." A sense of belonging is important. It might be that the "bad" kids are the only kids who will accept the child you care about. Become the friend's support person too. Love on them. Provide structure and a safe place for those your child feels closest to. This does not mean you allow the kids to do whatever they want in your presence. Give them a safe place, but you do have permission to set boundaries.
Kids need family and friends who they can confide in and who they can trust. They need to know someone has their back. This does not mean they need to be friends with the whole school, but that they have at least one or two trusted people in their lives. Having someone who knows them well, is there for them and that they can trust is huge, not only for the child but also for their parents. Kids and parents who have someone to talk with about a bad day, to strategize over difficult issues, or to provide fun and a break from the stress is important.
Have at least 2 Adults that Care
Why is it so important for youth to have more than one adult in their life, outside their parents, that they can trust? Imagine if you were in an unhealthy home and had no one or nowhere you felt safe. Does the child have someone who understands their situation and is unconditionally there for them? A youth pastor or a coach or scout leader can be a lifeline for so many kids. If you listen to professional athletes, musicians, or actors who are from hard places, most can tell you, by name who their mentor was. They know the person that kept them on the right path, provided them a sense of safety, and was a constant source of stability. These adults matter a lot. They give people from hard places a foundation on which to build a future.
Feel Safe and Protected In the Home
This can be the hardest to provide if you are not a parent and do not live with the child or youth. However, parents need support and a listening ear, and someone to show them how to be there for their kids. Can you be that person? Can you provide a safe listening ear for the parent in the life of a child? Parents having someone they trust and feel safe with is another protective factor and can help build increased safety and security in a home.
The bottom line, people need to feel a sense of belonging. They need to feel like they have a safe place to talk about their feelings and what is going on in their lives. Finally, and most importantly, they need to have somewhere or someone they feel safe.