Raising Innovators: Building Resilience for our Children

Nancy Ward
Raising Innovators: Building Resilience for our Children
Speaker :Georgie Wisen-Vincent, LMFT, RPT-S
Managing Director
The Center For Connection
Play Strong Institute, Pasadena, CA 

Link to Video of the Talk  (1 hour and 8 mins)
(This is a sumarized transcript prepared by Clairbourn's Director of Communications, Nancy Ward)

How do we develop resilience in our children?
Collaborate with your kids! That’s the key.
Read the Whole Brain Child - especially chapters 1-3.

What wires their brains?
Experiences in relationship. The strongest experiences get wired in our brains. Use your daily opportunities and interactions with your children to have positive impact on how their brains will wire.
Picture a triangle with brain, mind, and relationships at each point.
The brain is the hardware part of the system. The mind is the part of our system that does the thinking and conceptualizing and it controls the flow of energy. Relationships are the way we share information with each other. If all three work well together that results in a healthy functioning system.
What happens when kids have resilience already built in?
They can self-help or receive help to bounce back quickly from difficulty
A true example of how play therapy helped children break a negative focus cycle:
911 tragedy exposed a lot of kids to trauma. They were at ground zero or saw the news or saw terrified adults. A group of kids needed treatment afterwards and were paired with play therapists. Two boys were building block towers over and over again. They would knock them down repetitively. Play therapist knew what to do to help them. They asked them to solve the problem in their imagination. In the imaginary play, the boys decided they would break animals out of the New York Zoo. Each animal grabbed one of the blocks and helped to rebuild the towers. Once the boys accessed their creativity and imagination, they came up with a solution that gave them peace and they stopped the repetitive and negative play habit. The memory actually changed. The new memory of rebuilding the towers, with rogue zoo animals, replaced the negative memory. The boys went on to have normal childhoods.
Play is one of our best defenses against childhood trauma (parent-child play or caring adult-child play is key)
Spend about 15 minutes a day of resilience-strengthening play to help children figure out challenges and stresses that come up through the day. Help kids to learn how to think through how they can be active agents when they are faced with problems.

-It helps cultivate collaborative relationships 
-It can develop innovative strategies
-It can rewire the brain for trauma resilience, recovery, and prevention.
How can you tell if a child is built or trained to be resillient?
First indicators of children who will get through things faster is the level of creativity that they display. You can ask a child, “So this problem keeps happening. What do you think we can do to solve it?” Some kids will answer..."I can think of 10 things." and that's a good sign.
Anxiety is on the rise.
According to the American Journal of Play, 2011, a decline of free play time is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety. Comparing 1981 with 1997 - kids spend 145% more time doing schoolwork and  have only 11 hours of free play per week (including screentime).
How can you tell if your child has anxiety?
Some kids seem more overwhelmed by things that shouldn’t be so upsetting.
Stress, Anxiety, Trauma
-What is stress? It is a temporary hard time...like a gust of wind. 
-Anxiety? The day is perfect, but the child doesn't feel they can handle what is coming at them - things are taken in a stressful way that shouldn't be.

Is trauma and anxiety linked to later health problems?
There is an ACES Study by Kaiser and the CDC 1995-97 called the "Adverse Childhood Experiences Study." They tracked the number of traumatic situations each patient had in their lifespan. Just one “ACE” event made people more likely to have serious health problems later in life.
Be sure to give children tools to deal with anxiety
Big anxiety should be handled, and creative resilience is the way of the future so they can deal better with temporary stresses. We don’t want kids to be prone to anxiety. We want them to have the tools to face challenges.
The Tools: Children who can manage anxiety are innovative and creative in finding solutions.
-Able to stay calm in the storm
-Strong thinking and wise decision making
-Able to collaborate in relationships
-Innovative ideas
-The ability to bounce back and recover quickly
Future Employers Want These Qualities
Fortune 500 companies want these qualities in their future employees. Future industry and business opportunities will be based on innovation. The next generation of economic workers, who will be successful, are the creative innovators and not the ones who memorize answers from teachers.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Employee Example:
Her friend works at JPL, and she heads up a team that wants to build a rover that can enter a moon or Mars crater to assist with future colonization purposes. This may happen 50 or 60 years from now, but they are already thinking about now. We need the same kind of futuristic and creative thinking.
The book “The YES Brain” by Siegel and Bryson is all about what our kids need to succeed.
-Empathy (A big way to boost empathy in our kids is to perform community service as a family)
Children are natural innovators
Dr George Land designed a creativity test for NASA in the 1960s. 98% of preschoolers scored as well as NASA scientists (Land & Jarman, 1993). It is a timed test, so you have to do it fast.
Babies are born scientists
Alison Gopnick of UC Berkeley's Child Development Lab Is an author who studies development of children (she also has TED talks). Four-year-olds can solve some problems faster than adults because adult brains are slower. They aren’t worried about making mistakes or if it is right or wrong...they’ll keep trying and trying, and trying.
Integrating the Left and Right Brain
The assertion that there are left brain people and right brain people is hogwash. For the mind to work, both halves must be equally strong, talk to each other, and work together.

Left brain - Logical, loves order, factual memory, and details
Right brain - senses emotion, randomness, whole picture view, very good at autobiographical memory
How do you know which side to balance?
When kids get overwhelmed we talk about the right brain being overwhelmed by an emotional tsunami. However, kids who get overwhelmed by details are having a left brain experience.
Each hemisphere stores info differently.
Left stores facts...like 20 years ago, I remember what was packed in my lunch for the first day of school...what the lunch box smelled like. Right stores meaning...like I remember how I felt l on my first day of school. I was concerned that my name was written on the desk. 
Taming right brain overload
One strategy to help right brain overload is “Name it to Tame it” from the Whole Brain Child book.
T - Telling the story for little “t” trauma
L - Explain, order, label, with words
R - autobiographical, whole context, emotional info
Kids brains vs. adult brains
Kids have different brains than adults
-Adults are top down thinkers like company CEOs. The executive center of the brain needs 30 years to develop
-Kids brains are developing in a bottom up direction. Our kids have much stronger “downstairs brains”. Kids are often making decisions on impulse...do, do, do, they generate new ideas, they impulsively ask can I have this? Why not???  The lower brain is a very reactive part of the brain that assures our survival. The lower brain is where ideas spring from, where play comes from...the R&D department...just churning out ideas as fast as you can. Emotional extremes also originate in the lower brain as well. It is a very active brainstem...telling your child if they are under threat. Their brain does not know the difference between a perceived threat or an actual threat. So use techniques to put out the fire in the lower brain first so we can figure out with the upper part of the brain how to solve the problem in the future (the CEO part of the brain).

How many neurons are babies born with?
100 billion neurons is what your child has at birth. They have all the neurons they need when they are born...so what part of the brain actually grows? The connections between neurons that make neural networks and pathways. The pathways get more and more complex when we grow. Our brains keep developing over our lifespan, and the synaptic connections get bundled. Over time, these bundles become like superhighways. Adult brains become so sophisticated and specialized that weaker connections eventually disintegrate because we’re not using them. 
The Adolescent Brain - Synaptic Pruning
Synaptic pruning happens at 2 years old and then at 11 years old for girls. It also happens at 2 years old and 12.5 years old for boys. It is a push-pull time where they can act in a very unsettled manner.  It is helpful to remember that children are not in control of this pruning process in the brain. It is like a kitchen undergoing remodeling. You feel displaced, unsettled, it is hard to do the simplest thing. Dan Segal's book Brainstorm can help with this.
Integrating the Upstairs and Downstairs Brain
-Value their creativity and their ways of problem solving.
-Rethink discipline. What system can I use to motivate my children to do better and put in more effort to behave better?
-Create a system between yourself and your child, motivate them to develop skills, and be onboard and not stifle their creativity.

Teaching with Skill Building = Discipline
Approach your child with a bottom up approach in this order -support the survival center -soothe the emotional center -strengthen the executive center
1.Soothe them first, connect...show compassion,
2. redirect and discipline
3. skill building offer limits.
The book No Drama Discipline by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson can help.
Successful Scientists and Creativity
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks the best scientists come from people who aren’t constrained by limits to their creative drive. A child will play scientist and make a big mess playing with beakers and colors, etc. Parents will "top down" think..."Oh no!..you’re spilling stuff everywhere...stop!"

Importance of Play to Build Attachment
Playfulness is a core element of attachment because it provides ample opportunity for the attunement necessary to develop emotional and sensory regulation and the anticipation of positive relationships. Modeling creative responding builds a life-long template for emotional regulation and resilience.

Audience Question 1:  How long can you do this play system with your kids? How long is it effective to help them through trauma?
From birth to 11 for girls and from birth to 12.5 years old for boys. Just before high school, their cognitive ability kicks in and the play starts to taper off. High school age kids express playfulness differently...it becomes talk or art therapy.
Audience Question 2: Is nail biting a sign of stress?
There are different ideas about nail biting.
-A child could be trying to relieve momentary discomfort or they are seeking oral comfort.
-Some nail biters are just bored.
-Some kids have a sensory challenge.
-Every child has a specific style of self-regulation
Audience Question 3 - My middle school child is trying to express herself and needs space, but how to you still reign them in to keep them from going off the rails and remain a good person?
-At that age, there are developmental leaps happening...they are trying to fit in socially and deal with social media examples and what is popular with friends. Keep the communication close without judgement. Connect first and withhold the knee jerk reaction until you understand. Be curious. Ask them, "Where did you hear that?...What does that mean to you?...Let me tell you why I’m concerned or why I think it is not safe to explore that further." Observe closely if there is a need behind their behavior.
Audience Question 4 - Should parents tell to one another if they see that person’s child behaving badly or doing something online that is questionable? (example - a group chat where kids are posting questionable things online).
One way to handle it is to have your kids post something to their friends in the chat..."My parents are watching this account...you are causing me problems...please don’t talk that way or you’ll get me in trouble." Parents can also coordinate before trouble happens online and say let’s all pay attention together and be part of the village online. Be sure to monitor what your child is doing online. Parents should see what children are posting all through middle school. Parents should have access to their child's accounts. Kids want privacy, but they are not ready for privacy. A good rule  to teach your children is don’t post anything that you wouldn’t say to a person’s face. 
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