As you watch children cross the classroom threshold at the start of a new school year, you wonder: Will they connect with me? Will they get along with one another? Today, as children enter the "world" of school, you consider another factor-- how can I ensure the children's safety?
School shootings and the graphic violence we see in the media change the way we view the world. Exposure to violence can alter the way children feel and behave. Children are not born violent, nor are they naturally immune to the effects of violence. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D, a leading expert on brain development and children in crisis, has identified six core strengths that children need to be humane. The child without these strengths will be in greater danger of becoming violent and also less able to cope with verbal or physical abuse.
To help children develop these crucial strengths, Scholastic has launched KEEP THE COOL IN SCHOOL, a company-wide campaign against violence. We hope to offer teachers, parents, and children the tools to identify, develop, and enhance these core strengths.
The following article by Dr. Perry offers an explanation of these six strengths. Over the year, we will present six additional features, each focusing on one of the core strengths.
The Six Core Strengths
Violence infects our children. This infection is virulent in some and barely noticeable in others. Why do some children re-enact the violence they see on television while others do not? Why do some chronically teased children cope by developing a sense of humor, while others become self-loathing and yet others plot to shoot their taunting peers? It's almost impossible to answer these questions. We rarely know what makes a given child violent. But we do know that children with core strengths rarely become violent.
These six core strengths build upon each other to contribute to a child's emotional development. Together, they provide a strong foundation for future health, happiness, and productivity. What follows is an overview of the six core strengths and why each is essential to healthy development.
1. ATTACHMENT: Being a Friend
Attachment is the capacity to form and maintain healthy emotional bonds with another person. It is first acquired in infancy, as a child interacts with loving, responsive, and attentive parents and caregivers.
Why it's important: This core strength is the cornerstone of all the others. An infant's interactions with a parent or primary caregiver create his or her first relationship. Healthy attachments allow a child to love, to become a good friend, and to have a positive and useful model for future relationships. As a child grows, other consistent and nurturing adults such as teachers, family friends, and relatives will shape his ability to develop attachments. The attached child will be a better friend, student, and classmate-which promotes all forms of learning.
2. SELF-REGULATION: Thinking Before You Act
Developing and maintaining the ability to notice and control primary urges such as hunger and sleep-as well as feelings of frustration, anger, and fear-is a life-- long process. Its roots begin with the external regulation provided by parents or significant caregivers, and its healthy growth depends on a child's experience and the maturation of the brain.
Why it's important: Pausing a moment between an impulse and an action is a life tool. Developing this strength helps a child physiologically and emotionally. But it's a strength that must be learned-we are not born with it. As children grow, our expectations for them must be age appropriate. For instance, it's unreasonable to expect a 2-- year-old to have complete bladder and bowel control before his body has matured. In social situations, the age-appropriate strength to self-regulate may spell a child's success and build his self-confidence.
3. AFFILIATION: Joining In
The capacity to join others and contribute to a group springs from our ability to form attachments. Affiliation is the glue for healthy human functioning: It allows us to form and maintain relationships with others-and to create something stronger, more adaptive, and more creative than the individual.
Why it's important: Human beings are social creatures. We are biologically designed to live, play, grow, and work in groups. A family is a child's first and most important group, glued together by the strong emotional bonds of attachment. But most other groups that children join-such as a preschool class, kids in the neighborhood, friends made while traveling-are based on circumstance or common interests. It's in these groups that children will have thousands of brief emotional, social, and cognitive experiences that can help shape their development. And it is in these situations that children make stronger connections with peers-their first friendships.
4. AWARENESS: Thinking of Others
Awareness is the ability to recognize the needs, interests, strengths, and values of others. Infants begin life self-absorbed and slowly develop awarenessthe ability to see beyond themselves and to sense and categorize the other people in their world. At first this process is simplistic: "I am a boy and she is a girl. Her skin is brown and mine is white." As children grow, their awareness of differences and similarities becomes more complex.
Why it's important: The ability to be attuned, to read and respond to the needs of others, is an essential element of human communication. An aware child learns about the needs and complexities of others by watching, listening, and forming relationships with a variety of children. He becomes part of a group (which the core strength of affiliation allows him to do) and sees ways in which we are all alike and different. With experience, a child can learn to reject labels used to categorize people, such as skin color or the language they speak. The aware child will also be much less likely to exclude others from a group, to tease, and to act in a violent way.
5. TOLERANCE: Accepting Differences
Tolerance is the capacity to understand and accept how others are different from you. This core strength builds upon another-awareness (once aware, what do you do with the differences you observe?).
Why it's important: It's natural and human to be afraid of what's new and different. To become tolerant, a child must first face the fear of differences. This can be a challenge because children tend to affiliate based on similarities-in age, interests, families, or cultures. But they also learn to reach out and be more sensitive to others by watching how the adults in their lives relate to one another. With positive modeling, you can insure and build on children's tolerance. The tolerant child is more flexible and adaptive in many ways. Most important, when a child learns to accept difference in others, he becomes able to value the things that make each of us special and unique.
6. RESPECT: Respecting Yourself and Others
Appreciating your own self-worth and the value of others grows from the foundation of the preceding five strengths. An aware, tolerant child with good affiliation, attachment, and self-regulation strengths gains respect naturally. The development of respect is a lifelong process, yet its roots are in early childhood, as children learn these core strengths and integrate them into their behaviors and their worldviews.
Why it's important: Children will belong to many groups, meet many kinds of people, and will need to be able to listen, negotiate, compromise, and cooperate. Having respect enables a child to accept others and to see the value in diversity. He can see that every group needs many styles and many strengths to succeed and he can value each person in the group for her talents. When children respect-and even celebrate-diversity, they find the world to be a more interesting, complex, and safer place. Just as understanding replaces ignorance, respect replaces fear.
These core strengths provide a child with the framework for a life rich in family, friends, and personal growth. Our world changes daily and becomes increasingly diverse and how much more complex that world will be when our children become parents! Teaching children these core strengths helps them learn to live and prosper together with people of all kinds-each bringing different strengths to create a greater whole.