One of the internal assets that is essential to the development of a healthy child is resistance skills. Most people would define this as the ability to “just say no!” and to resist peer pressure from other teens, but resistance skill development begins at a much earlier age.
As a youngster, a child is developing resistance skills as he or she learns to recognize risky or dangerous situations and is able to seek help from trusted adults. Perhaps this is recognizing that someone is a stranger, and running back to hug mom or dad’s legs. As the child grows, he or she begins to sense danger accurately, to seek the needed help from trusted adults, and to resist pressure from peers to participate in unacceptable or risky behavior. This may look like choosing not to wander into the woods with friends or chase after a ball into the street. Children should feel that there is a trusted adult in their life to check in with, to reassure themselves that their detection of danger or risk is accurate and valid.
Once children are school-aged and interacting more with peers, we should begin to see resistance skills displayed in the good old fashioned way; the child can stay away from people who are likely to get her or him in trouble and is able to say no to doing wrong or dangerous things. This can become tricky for kids as they attempt to make and keep friends. Sometimes it might be hard for children to break off friendships that are harmful or toxic. It might be difficult for a young person to choose not to attend a party where his or her friends will be. Avoiding dangerous situations all-together becomes a skill that can test the resolve of even the healthiest of children!
How can we help foster the development and positive practice of resistance skills in our children? When they are younger, we can teach them about choices. Talk about making-up one’s own mind in different situations. Discuss how people can choose to do all sort of different things that the child does not have to follow. Children can be distracted from negative behaviors by reinforcing positive ones, and they can be coached on walking away from the bad decisions of others.
As children get older, adults can communicate with them about making plans to face challenging situations. If a young person has talked about plans with a trusted adult, they are more likely to follow through with that plan in the event of a difficult situation. Adults can help children identify dangerous situations and support them when they successfully avoid them. Affirming a young person’s positive choices and decisions only helps solidify them!