Tenacity in Children: the dynamic instincts that exist in each child from birth and the prominent role they play in the course of a child’s development

In the first book we co-authored, Raising Resilient Children, we defined resilience as a process of competent functioning under duress and adversity.  We identified the components of a “resilient mindset” and included self-discipline as one of these components.  As we continued to elaborate our understanding of a resilient mindset and the behaviors associated with this mindset, we came to appreciate that self-discipline deserved separate and special attention.  We perceived self-discipline to be the inner control required to focus and direct us as we engage in activities that reinforce resilience over time.  The absence of inner control would make it increasingly challenging to become resilient.  Appreciating the impactful role of self-discipline in development served as a catalyst for us to co-author Raising a Self-Disciplined Child in 2007, six years after the publication of Raising Resilient Children. 

Since 2007 we have positioned the concepts of resilience and self-discipline at the center of our clinical work, consultations, and writings.  However, as we continued to reflect upon our theoretical framework, we recognized that something was missing from our formulation, namely, a consideration of the self-determination necessary to fuel and maintain resilience and self-discipline.  We labeled this self-determination tenacity and noted that it wasrepresented by a sense of will, strong mindedness, and purpose. 

In reviewing many studies and writings, we proposed that tenacity is composed of seven instincts, which as the word instinct implies, are present from birth.  We believe that while there are other instincts, the seven we have identified have proven to be of the greatest significance in our development.  They have evolved over thousands and thousands of years, ensuring the success and survival of our species.  Most professionals and the lay public have moved beyond the assumption that children come into this world as tabula rasa or blank slates waiting to be infused with knowledge.  Most are aware that children are different from birth in significant ways, including their inborn temperament. 

However, while there has been a shift from a belief in tabula rasa, many may not be aware of the dynamic instincts that exist in each child from birth and the prominent role they play in the course of a child’s development.  For example, the early, rudimentary manifestations of such attributes as optimism, motivation, empathy, and altruism to name just a few are present at birth, waiting to be nurtured and brought to fruition by parents and other caregivers.  In light of the role that these instincts play throughout our lives, we believe that it is imperative for parents, educators, mental health and childcare professionals to strive to identify and reinforce them in children.

In our using the word “instinct” it’s important to distinguish the different expressions of instincts in some species compared with our own.  In animals, instincts are manifested as fixed patterns of behavior that lead to a very specific outcome such as a bird building a nest for the first time or a salmon returning upriver to its birthplace.  We contend that in our species instincts represent an intuitive, more flexible way of thinking and/or acting that increase the chances of survival and success.  Please visit our website,  www.TenacityInChildren.com to learn more about our new book, Tenacity in Children: Nurturing the Seven Instincts For Lifetime Success.

Sam Goldstein is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, the University of Utah School of Medicine (USA). and certified School Psychologist in the State of Utah. He is also Board Certified as a Pediatric Neuropsychologist and listed in the Council for the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the National Academy of Neuropsychology. He has authored, co-edited or co-authored over fifty clinical and trade publications, three dozen book chapters, nearly three dozen peer-reviewed scientific articles and eight psychological and neuropsychological tests. Since 1980, he has served as Clinical Director of The Neurology, Learning and Behavior Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Robert Brooks is currently on the faculty of Harvard Medical School (part-time) and is the former Director of the Department of Psychology at McLean Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital.  He is Board Certified in Clinical Psychology, as well as listed in the Council for the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology. He has authored, co-edited or co-authored 18 books and, in addition, authored or co-authored almost three dozen book chapters and more than three dozen peer reviewed scientific articles. He lives in Needham, MA.



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