Chandra White-Cummings speaks on how we can be better at building resilient boys by challenging our own thought patterns.
With our boys facing declining academic achievement, increased and more dangerous bullying, and assaults on masculinity and manhood, researchers, educators, and community leaders are highlighting resilience as a critical asset our sons need to survive and thrive in today’s society. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress…It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” Further, the APA identifies these additional elements of resilience:
• The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
• A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
• Skills in communication and problem solving
• The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses
Mothers raising sons are often concerned that their son will not have what he needs emotionally and psychologically to develop important qualities like resilience. There’s no doubt that each parent has skills and behaviors needed by boys to succeed. As it turns out, a mom’s emotional health, and by implication, her mental health, play a significant role in modeling resilience. In their book Raising Boys By Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs to Thrive, authors Gregory Jantz, PhD, and Michael Gurian identify daily bonding as an element of maternal nurturance shown by brain science, sociology, and anthropology to most likely come from a mom and which is absolutely vital to a son’s healthy emotional and psychological development because it can help develop resilience. The bonding to which Jantz and Gurian refer happens during everyday life and typically occurs over longer periods of time during a day than the type of bonding between sons and dads. They describe the benefits of this critical dynamic as follows:
“For a boy, the daily acts of learning at his mother’s feet are crucial to his development. He watches and observes how his mother copes with life. He sees how she reacts when she is excited, tired, anxious, or satisfied. By observing her reactions he learns emotional regulation. … In most families, mom’s healthy presence is a psychological baseline for the development of a young child’s healthy psyche; boys need maternal bonding to thrive.” (p. 43, emphasis mine)
This is especially important in the context of the prevailing negative narrative attached to single motherhood. Sometimes we act as if our children are somehow oblivious to the pronouncements that are made about kids who are raised in single mother households. With all the time they spend on social media, we still believe that the rhetoric has escaped them. They know society has low expectations of them and has generally negative views of their situation. Living day to day with a mother who intentionally resists toxic thinking and emotional patterns and expectations by persevering in spite of uphill struggles, and who continues to think the best of herself and her family despite circumstances that don’t always reflect the best, a son learns how to do the same. Conversely, if he observes that we live hindered by others’ judgments, he gives himself permission to respond in ineffective and self-destructive ways.
The urgent need to rid ourselves of negative, toxic thinking is obvious. But how is it done? Just like people recommend fasts and other diet modifications to purify and detox our bodies, there is a similar process for detoxifying our minds. Dr. Caroline Leaf, who has researched the science of thought for over 20 years, has developed a 21-day Brain Detox Plan that has proven effective in rewiring the brain with positive, life-changing thoughts and emotions. The science underlying why it works is complex, but here are the five steps in the process:
- Gather – think about what you’re thinking about. Deliberately slow the mind down to specifically focus attention on the kind of thoughts and the source of those thoughts. Is the thought anxious or angry? Is the source of the thought internal (a memory from the subconscious) or external (perceived by our senses in the current environment)?
- Focused reflection – isolate your thinking onto one thought, set of thoughts, or attitude and determine how it’s affecting you.
- Write – write out your thoughts to a.) consolidate them into a memory b.) add clarity to what you’re thinking about and c.)give a visual path to see the direction, tone and pattern of your thoughts for continued reflection.
- Revisit – evaluate the thought(s) and decide whether you want to improve it but hold onto it or discard it altogether. This step is key because if you do nothing, the thought will remain and be reinforced by having been brought to the conscious level. The thought(s) can be replaced with a healthy, non-toxic thought.
- Active reach – this is the cementing step of the process. In this step, you actually put into action behaviors that match, reinforce and reflect the new thought(s) /attitude. This takes you from making a decision about a thought to actively living out the new thought. For example; if you want to decide to stop thinking of your child as a burden and obstacle, you would stop speaking in ways that reflect that thought and speak in ways that reflect new thoughts of your son being a gift or asset.
Going through steps 1-5 for 7-10 minutes a day for 21 days comprises one cycle of the detoxification process. It takes commitment and dedication, but improved mental and emotional health that translates into healthier parenting and resilience for our sons is worth it!
Photo: S. Yodo/Flickr