Every single day I sit down and open up the news on my iPad or see what news is featured in the trending box on Facebook. Each of these times I am confronted with the reality that, despite the great life that I have, the world that I live in can be a scary place. “Murder!” “Terrorist attacks!” “Accidents!” “Death!” the headlines read and I can feel my heart racing because in spite of trying to separate myself from someone else’s reality I know the world’s stress gets to me. If that is how I get hearing the news, I cannot imagine how it must affect children. Children are so impressionable and as an adult and a future parent I want to help my children excel regardless of what is going on around them, but could the answer possibly be so simple?
It was a September day in 2001 that no one would forget because it was the day that terrorists attacked the Twin Towers in New York. I remember that incident very clearly even though I was only seven years old. The news scared me and I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by all the death and destruction regardless of the fact that I did not know anyone directly affected. My family has always been extremely supportive and I have been fortunate enough to never have to worry about going to them for anything. This closeness allowed me to be able to go to them during these troubling times.
A close family, is that the answer to helping children be resilient? Yes and no. That is only half of the answer. The rest of the answer is in how to achieve this closeness that my family seemed to so easily have. Despite what people thing, a close resilient family does not come naturally. It is something that is worked for.
In the summer of 2001 a study was done where four dozen families were asked a series of 20 questions such as “do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school?” The researchers were shocked to discover that the better a child was able to answer those questions the better the child’s emotional health and happiness.
As a child growing up, my family talked a lot about our family’s history and my parents’ history. I knew the story of how my parents met, what they did in high school, where they went to college, as well as my grandparents backstory. As a family we enjoyed talking to each other about these things.
This research study on the family history questions continued in fall of 2001 after the tragedy of 9/11. This gave the researchers the opportunity to see how these children responded to a tragedy of that gratitude. Again, those who knew more about their family background “proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress” better than those who did not.
So is my parents sitting down and talking to me about their history is what helped me when tragedy struck like 9/11? Really? Bruce Feiler explains why family history creates closer families and more resilient children in his article “The Stories That Bind Us” when he wrote,
“Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. But talking doesn’t mean simply ‘talking through problems,’ as important as that is. Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.
The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”