One of the common myths I hear about children is that they are “resilient.”

This is not true.  All children are “malleable” (impressionable, mold-able) but not all children are “resilient.”  A baby is born with a brain that is largely unfinished.  It has the capacity to be, in a sense, customized to the conditions of the child’s family, culture, and environment.

A baby’s brain is shaped by the quantity and quality of the life experiences made available to the child.  Parents are virtual architects of the child’s brain.

Infants are born with millions and millions of neurons that communicate with each other through electrical charges and chemical changes.  These networks develop as a result of everyday life experiences.

Neurons that fire together, wire together.  Think back to when you learned to ride a bike.  At first, it took a great amount of concentration and mental effort to coordinate your body and balance on the bicycle.  But day after day, as you rode the bike, the connections in your brain related to bike riding became denser and more complex to the point that you were able to effortlessly ride down the street without even thinking about it.

This kind of process is happening in a child’s brain all day, every day.

But don’t let this scare or overwhelm you as a parent or caregiver. You have what it takes.

Children who have warm responsive relationships with parents and caregivers, coupled with a typical amount of stimulation appropriate for a child’s age, will have a brain that is well connected.  Children without adequate nurture and care will have a brain with significantly fewer connections.

This doesn’t mean that parents should run out and buy every educational toy on the market and bombard their child with stimulation.  It is possible to overwhelm the brain with too much, too fast, and the child isn’t able to benefit.  The ordinary, everyday life experiences provided by an attuned and invested parent are enough.

All children are malleable, but not all are resilient. The capacity for resilience is made, not born.   A landmark study known as the “Werner Study” followed 698 children for 40 years to identify factors that foster resilience. The study revealed the critical ingredient to resilience is the presence of at least one adult who provides emotional support and affirmation.  It may be a parent, grandparent, or community member such as a teacher.

A warm, responsive relationship is the key to resilience.

A parent who is there to comfort, encourage, guide, and instruct.

A parent who is able to respond to the child’s fears and doubts with empathy instead of dismissal.

A parent who is able to be consistently mindful of the needs and emotional state of child – and respond accordingly.

Every child needs a parent who is crazy about them.  You can do this.

Show your child today, through your mindful presence, that he or she matters.

(And tell me how it goes!)

Photo Via Creative Commons: Nana Agyei,