In The Help, the novel and movie adaptation abou racial issues in the American South, the nanny Aibileen dotes on her ward Mae Mobley, in part because Mae Mobley's mom is too preoccupied and self-centered to care for her child.
"You is kind. You is smart. You is important," was a mantra that Aibileen would repeat over and over to Mae Mobley. While this gramatically flawed advice reflects Aibileen's lack of formal education, it also shows how this can coexist with the insightful wisdom that she had earned by playing mother to many other girls like Mae Mobley, who were suffering from gender typecasts as well during the early 1960s.
While we have neither racial or gender issues in Manila, Aibileen's advice to the little girl is also at the heart of another new concept that I am trying to understand: the adversity quotient, or A.Q.
Of course, we have all heard of IQ or intelligence quotient, which reflects the innate skills a child has for intellectual functions and reasoning. This has been eclipsed in recent years by EQ or emotional quotient, to denote the ability to empathize and relate with others.
Apparently, however, IQ and EQ alone are not enough. While at a parent-teacher chat in school, my child's mentor mentioned AQ because she believes that my daughter has a lot of it.
As the name implies, AQ is the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity and to turn a negative setback into a positive learning experience. It is, in a word, resiliency. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is a very critical skill for my children to learn. Like it or not, bad things will happen in their lifetimes. This is inevitable, and even the most careful parent cannot prevent his child from getting hurt, disappointed, frustrated, and even rejected at some point. It is actually counterproductive to keep our children in a bubble for too long because they would miss the chance to develop the coping mechanisms necessary later on in life.
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I tried to research exactly what went into training our children to be more resilient, and I was surprised to discover that instead of "leaving them on their own" more, the advice was actually to make them feel more secure in their early years by being there for them in many ways. If the child grows up confident that there is an adult who loves him unconditionally, the "end of the world" crisis can only be so bad. He knows he will never be alone. If children are repeatedly reminded that there are limits that have been set to keep them from serious harm, they will be less likely to feel confused and desperate when real travel hits. It also helps to have role models whom they have seen handle tough situations gracefully, without freaking out.
A close relationship with adults isn't the only ingredient of creating resiliency, however. Over time, a child must be aware of his worth and that he is innately lovable and loved. He must have enough respect for himself and others so that when something or someone crosses the line, he can feel justified in insisting that the offense be stopped at once. In the "You is important" part of the mantra, you are encouraging your child not to settle for pain or suffering when problems occur. You are telling him to fight back.
Lastly, the child must be confident of what he can do to address the problem and in his "powers' to remedy a situation in some way by sharing it verbally with others. Congratulate him when he shares the problem with you or with the teacher. Congratulate him even more when he thinks of a way to right a wrong. This does not refer only to a setback that the child personally experiences, but also to a problem that his friend or someone else is encountering.
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I started to think of an example to illustrate this when I suddenly recalled that, earlier this month, my daughter asked me to write in this column about the problem her classmate is having with a bully. Aside from that, she started an "anti-bullying club" with her classmates to protect others from the alleged bully's actions. No wonder her teachers think she has the AQ thing down pat.
This story originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Smart Parenting magazine.
Minor edits have been made by the Smartparenting.com.ph editors.