I looked at his face and quickly tried to imagine what he looked like as a child. He finally gave me his name, and I remembered him immediately. As a young boy, he had a horrendous childhood, growing up in multiple foster homes. However, he came by to tell me how well he was doing, both professionally and personally.
I fear he is an exception. Adverse childhood experiences resonate throughout a person’s life, placing kids at risk for a variety of physical and mental problems. Hundreds of studies conducted over the past 40 years have come to the same conclusions. Bad childhoods have long-term effects.
While we’ve extensively studied the negative impact of early childhood stress, might those same bad events have some positive consequences? I’ve just read a fascinating article by Megan Hustad in Psychology Today on the “Surprising Benefits for Those Who Had Tough Childhoods.” Hustad argues that there are an increasing number of studies that have discovered that bad times have positive effects on some kids.
Youngsters experiencing significant childhood stress may exhibit improved problem solving, resiliency and greater cognitive flexibility. Forced by circumstances to deal with chaos, pain, and instability, some kids acquire valuable skills that serve them well throughout their adulthood.
No one is suggesting that we should raise kids in bad environments, but parents caring for kids in good homes can learn from this research.
- Allow your kids to feel pain and distress. I realize this goes against every parental instinct, but kids need to learn how to deal with feeling uncomfortable. This should occur at an early age, with parents viewing themselves more as coaches and teachers rather than protectors. If you allow your child to deal with low levels of stress at an early age, they are more equipped to deal with the tougher realities of their adolescent and adult years.
- Teach problem-solving. It feels good to resolve a child’s dispute with a teacher, playmate or coach. We take care of the issue, and our child looks up to us but learns little about life.
Bad things happen, some minor while others are catastrophic. Most of these events can’t be avoided. Doesn’t it make more sense to teach our kids how to manage these tough times rather than intervening to make their lives comfortable?
Take a look at the Hustad article. I hope it reassures you that intervening less today will better prepare your kids for tomorrow.
Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton. For more of his columns, join Dr. Ramey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/drgregramey. Dr. Ramey has been a guest contributor to the Ohio Family Blog since 2007.
[Reprinted by permission from the December 2, 2017, edition of the Dayton Daily News, “Unexpected benefits of tough times”, Gregory Ramey, PhD]
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Guest Contributor Gregory Ramey, PhD, Child Psychologist and Dayton Daily News Columnist
Gregory Ramey, PhD, is a nationally recognized child psychologist and columnist who has worked at Dayton Children’s Hospital since 1979. In addition to his weekly column in the Dayton Daily News about effective parenting, Ramey has conducted more than 200 workshops and has recently been quoted in articles in Redbook, Parenting, Ladies Home Journal as well as columns distributed by the New York Times Wire Service.