What Is Cognitive Resiliency?
We’re talking about a major organ capable of healing itself. So, the healthier the organ (in this case the brain), the more likely it is able to create and repair broken synapses, shut down unnecessary neurological pathways, and build strong connections for higher, healthier performance.
For example, a friend experienced a severe brain injury last year, leaving him with significant brain damage, and a less than 5% chance of recovering. The medical team and his loved ones prepared for the worst. However, he overcame all odds, regaining his ability to talk, walk, and is working on regaining short-term memory.
The key elements to his recovery came down to his physical health, but also his mental health. His cognitive resilience before the accident!
Having built that cognitive resilience in his childhood, and part of his adulthood, allowed for a positive outcome in his recovery. It becomes clear in cases like these how important it is to build your cognitive resiliency at a young age. And how it becomes an important way of protecting and boosting our brain’s health performance throughout our lifetime.
So how do we do that? How do we help our children build and develop cognitive resiliency?
The American Psychology Association (2021) describes resiliency as occurring in three areas: individual, family, and environmental. It is evident, through over 25 years of research, that resilience is important to our mental well-being. The resiliency an individual demonstrates at different life stages is based on how they navigate the world around them, how they perceive themselves, and how they interact with others.
Firstly, it’s important to note that building resilience in children isn’t about taking adversity away. It’s about providing the right support so that they can develop the healthy skills to overcome those adversities.
Here are few tips and tricks to help you and your child build resiliency:
Help them develop their executive functioning skills.
- We’re talking about establishing routines, creating connections with others, and maintaining those relationships in a healthy and meaningful way (Masten & Barnes, 2018). This can look like providing the opportunity to be creative (crafts), playing board games (taking turns, managing losing/winning, planning, regulating emotions, and managing alternative outcomes), developing age-appropriate language, and distinguishing different types of relationships. By providing our children with these opportunities, we’re supporting them in learning to manage their behaviours, responses, and emotions, while developing healthy coping strategies.
Relationships fosters independence.
- Resiliency is about providing an environment where children can thrive in a safe, open, and honest way (Masten & Barnes, 2018). We’re not giving them radical independence, but rather fostering opportunities for growth within the safety of our relationship with them. Think of it like a yo-yo, tied to a string. It goes out and comes back. Your child can step away from the comfort of your “arms” still strongly attached, like the yo-yo string, being able to navigate their way home. They can learn new skills, and build on those skills. All while being able to return to that safe place at any time, and without feeling lost or confused, or unsupported.
- (Masten & Barnes, 2018). Let’s move beyond the idea of “indulgence” and into the realm of “taking care of the person as whole.” So, teaching our children this idea of self-care as taking care. This may look like eating healthy, being active, maintaining healthy relationships (with children and adults), and sometimes “indulging” by having a bubble bath, a treat, or reading a favourite book.
Building emotional and psychological competency.
- It’s important to teach our children to acknowledge when they are doing or trying something new or hard, and their ability to persevere (Masten & Barnes, 2018). Similarly, fostering healthy optimism allows children to problem solve, develop critical thinking, and teaches them to reframe challenges or negative thought patterns.
Example: I understand how disappointed you are that you couldn’t go to your music class today. I would be disappointed too. What could we do with this free time this week? (They may need some help here.) Maybe we could put together a concert? Or, I know you were really hoping to try out your new markers. Should we take this time and do some drawing?
- This is believing that life has a meaning (Masten & Barnes, 2018). As children grow and learn about their environment, it’s important to teach them about meaning. Children who understand peer-cohesiveness, family-cohesiveness, have a sense of purpose and collective achievement (winning/losing as a team, community involvement) demonstrate higher levels of resilience and the ability to overcome adversity.
Helping our children develop cognitive resilience is like helping them develop physically. Eating well is equivalent to fostering long-term healthy relationships. Sleeping well is the equivalent to having the executive functioning skills to manage emotions, problem solve, and think critically. Just as taking vitamins is as important as self-care.
Remember that a resilient child is a child capable of overcoming adversity. Although we want to protect our children from ever experiencing adversity, it’s impossible to do so. (Yes! I know that’s scary.) Instead, I encourage you as a parent to provide opportunities for them to develop the resiliency and coping skills required to overcome adversity in a healthy and meaningful way.
Staal, M. A., Bolton, A. E., Yaroush, R. A., & Bourne, L. E. (2008). Cognitive performance and resilience to stress. In B. J. Lukey & V. Tepe (Eds.), Biobehavioral resilience to stress (pp. 259–348). Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.os non ut aut dicta sapiente.