The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for Indy race car driver Scott Dixon.

In case Scott Dixon’s name doesn’t ring a bell, he won the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 — a race car driver’s dream come true. Then, after riding that high, he was robbed at gunpoint by two young teenage boys while in the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant. Even after that frightening situation, Mr. Dixon had the courage to strap himself into his car on Sunday morning. His hopes of winning were dashed when he catapulted across the track in a flaming, airborne car, resulting from an accident that he did not cause.

I think we would all understand if Mr. Dixon felt sorry for himself.

He is known as the IceMan. Not because, as a New Zealander, Scott Dixon lives closer to Antarctica than any of his fellow racers. Rather, he earned the nickname because they say he doesn’t get rattled. Not even when he’s robbed at gunpoint. Not even when he’s flying through air in a car covered with flames.

That’s resiliency — the ability to bounce back and move forward when life pulls you down.

Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child has discovered that the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. That one strong, solid relationship counter-balances all of the negative.

Years ago, I read something about people who don’t have enough stress in their lives have too much stress. I’m not sure of the science behind this statement, but I find with myself that I accomplish the most when I am in the busiest. There’s a saying, “If you want something done, get a busy person to do it.”

Not all stress if harmful. Since life is full of stressful moments – sick children, broken cars, work deadlines, leaky basements and so on, our bodies are built to respond. A surge of adrenaline runs through us. An increased heart rate and elevated hormone levels transform us into an earthly Wonder Woman or Superman. Our bodies give us what we need to respond to the problem.

Our bodies, though, aren’t meant to be on high alert all of the time. Too much stress can be toxic. For children, toxic stress comes from experiencing physical or emotional abuse, neglect, family or community violence or living in unhealthy and unsafe conditions such as when parents or caregivers are using substances or suffering from untreated mental illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics adds bullying, dating violence and sex trafficking to its definition of violence.

Harvard warns that “This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.”

You can help your child build resiliency by giving him or her opportunities to make decisions. Exercise is good for battling stress. And, when you’d much rather grab a half gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and eat it in one sitting, opt for a bowl of watermelon. Otherwise, your guilt will befriend your stress. Abstaining from risky behaviors, like alcohol, tobacco and drugs, is also important.

Give yourself time to enjoy relaxing things, like reading a good novel, watching the birds or watching the waves roll in on the shoreline. Treat yourself to an afternoon nap or a warm bubble bath. When your child sees you learning how to relax and take care of yourself, he or she will learn the same. They’re watching you even when you don’t realize it.

Building resiliency in children is so vital that the American Academy of Pediatrics is in the planning process for developing a national center – the Center on Healthy, Resilient Children — that will focus on resilience in children and families for long-term health. 

Dario Franchitti, said of his friend Scott Dixon and his family, in referring to his resiliency, “That’s probably where he came from, where he was brought up and what he went through to get where he is.” (Indianapolis Star, 2017)

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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