Visiting psychologist will talk about helping youngsters gain the tools for problem-solving.
In his classic memoir “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, explored why some in the concentration camps gave up while others endured horrific circumstances. He surmised that those who survived were able to find meaning in their suffering.
“Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity,” said Dr. Robert Brooks, a psychologist and author who has studied and written about resilience since the late 1970s.
On Dec. 5, Dr. Brooks will speak to parents from 7 to 9 p.m. at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville about raising resilient children. The program, titled “The Power of Resilience: Nurturing Inner Strength in Our Children and Youth,” is co-sponsored by Shemesh, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, with Jewish Community Services, Beth Tfiloh Dahan, and the group Baltimore Yachad.
Dr. Brooks, who lives in Needham, Mass., also will hold a daylong training session on the topic for local Jewish educators on Dec. 6.
Dr. Aviva Weisbord, executive director of Shemesh, which provides educational support to families with children with learning disabilities, said bringing Dr. Brooks to Baltimore has been a longtime goal for her.
“He is the authority on resilience,” she said. “We believe helping to build resilient children is part of our mission — to support Jewish kids with learning differences and help them fulfill their academic, intellectual, emotional and social potential.
“Resiliency can be the difference between success and failure for a child who struggles,” Dr. Weisbord said. “Resiliency is what keeps him or her climbing the mountain.”
In a phone interview with Jmore, Dr. Brooks said when he started his professional training, he “became interested in not only what makes people vulnerable to emotional problems but also what are the things that help them to bounce back?”
In the course of his research, Dr. Brooks said he discovered that regardless of the environment in which they grew up, children who bounce back from adversity all have one thing in common—“a charismatic adult.”
A charismatic adult is defined by psychiatrists as someone with whom a child or adolescent identifies and from whom they gain strength and inspiration.
Dr. Weisbord said she finds the concept of the charismatic adult heartening. “It takes us out of hopelessness and despair, and moves us to not give up on kids,” she said.
Dr. Brooks said charismatic adults “look for the beauty and strength in every child. It’s so easy to focus on what kids can’t do. But every kid has islands of competence. Maybe he doesn’t read well, but he’s great at art.”
Once parents and educators recognize a child’s strengths, Dr. Brooks said they should contemplate, “How are we using the islands of competence to help the child feel more motivated and dignified?”
Dr. Brooks said children and adolescents should feel that they are contributing to the world and that their lives have purpose.
“When we ask educators for their favorite memories from when they were students, the No. 1 response is, ‘When someone asked me to help out.’ People who help out lead longer lives,” said Dr. Brooks. “They want to feel, ‘Because I’m on this Earth, it’s a better place.’”
Dr. Brooks said resilient people tend to have good problem-solving skills. “If you want to raise a resilient child, you have to start giving them choices and opportunities to solve problems from an early age,” he said.
But Dr. Weisbord said today’s “helicopter parents” make it challenging for children to develop problem-solving skills and recover from failures.
“We went through a phase where every child on every team had to get a trophy, regardless of whether they won. It didn’t work,” said Dr. Weisbord. “Kids don’t know what to do when they fail. We all fail, we all make mistakes, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s how we learn.”
Dr. Brooks said parents who intervene whenever their kids experience a bump in the road “rob their children of opportunities to learn to problem-solve. When you do that, you’re saying to your kids, ‘I have to save you because you can’t handle it.’ We want them to feel empowered.”
To purchase tickets to the Shemesh Winter Workshop on Dec. 5, contact Gila Haor at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-843-7588.
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