Emotional resilience is a challenging part of growing up.
Early in life, having emotional needs met lays the foundation for all mental development. Love physically affects a child. It influences key brain structures and it also helps form the personality.
Emotional fulfillment early in life can have all these benefits:
- Improved stress regulation
- Better emotional processing
- Higher performance in school
- Superior short-term memory
- Greater overall mental health
Where do these effects come from? Early nurturing is correlated with a larger hippocampus, which helps manage emotions, memory, and motivation. It also moderates the amygdala, which detects fear and responds to threats. All of this is vital.
Still, there comes a time when young people must start building their own emotional resilience. Emotional self-reliance can be thought of as the ability to meet your own emotional needs, think constructively about them, and act appropriately on them.
This is one area where many children, even those with attentive, loving parents, have trouble.
The Connection Between Early Attachment and Emotional Self-Reliance
As they have early emotional experiences, children can pick up on unhealthy “lessons” about relating to others. They may never be taught unhealthy patterns directly, but they are excellent at recognizing and recreating them.
Psychologists have identified these unhealthy attachment styles in children:
Children experiencing this style are suspicious of strangers and feel nervous when separated from parents. Despite that, they are not necessarily comforted when a parent comes back, and may be hostile toward adults.
Children experiencing avoidant attachment may avoid their parents, particularly after the parent has been absent. They don't look for affection or contact. Young children may not express a preference for parents over strangers.
Disorganized attachment is a combination of anxious and avoidant styles. A child exhibiting signs of this mindset might oscillate suddenly between the two extremes of behavior.
Dysfunctional attachment styles often contribute to psychological stress that manifests as anxiety or depression. This can hinder the child's ability to develop healthy relationships. As the patterns get stronger, parents' desire to soothe through reassurance can actually make things worse.
In this way, emotional self-reliance becomes inhibited while impulse control is reduced.
Building Emotional Self-Reliance with Structured Independence
What's the solution? Adolescents and young adults have succeeded in breaking unhealthy habits by tapping into the natural emotional resilience each person has inside.
This is a process in which agency - the ability and responsibility to take action - is given to the young person in an environment free of things that reinforce unwanted patterns.
An environment that fosters emotional self-reliance must:
Be Free of Distractions
Children with low emotional self-reliance often retreat into distractions with TV, movies, and video games. While all these have a place, it's crucial to not let them become a replacement for missing emotional resources.
Be Safe, But Not Stifling
Young people who haven't developed emotional self-reliance are often deterred by the uncertainty of risk-taking. They should have a safe environment with clear expectations, but one in which adults do not act out their familiar patterns.
Reward Initiative, Creativity, and Determination
To address emotional needs, three things are required:
- Initiative: The decision to take action independently without being told to do so.
- Creativity: The ability to recognize what's “not working” and think of alternatives.
- Determination: The willingness to keep trying after meeting resistance or failures.
WinGate Wilderness Therapy provides opportunities for children to become confident and secure while building healthy relationships... not only with mentors and peers, but with themselves. In the process, they learn they can manage and express their emotions positively. To learn more, contact us today.