Forming Resilient Children – Holly Catterton Allen

Forming Resilient Children Holly Catterton Allen
Forming Resilient Children: The Role of Spiritual Formation for Healthy Development by Holly Catterton Allen
Also by this author: Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community, and Worship
Published by IVP Academic on September 21, 2021
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Parenting
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Many children today are growing up in the midst of adversity, whether family difficulties or larger societal crises. All children need to be able to deal with stress, cope with challenges, and persevere through disappointments. While we cannot protect children from all hardships, we can promote healthy development that fosters resilience. In this interdisciplinary work, Holly Catterton Allen builds a bridge between resilience studies and children's spiritual formation. Because children are spiritual beings, those who work with them can cultivate spiritual practices that are essential to their thriving in challenging times. This book equips educators, counselors, children's ministers, and parents with ways of developing children's spirituality to foster the resilience needed to face the ordinary hardships of childhood and to persevere when facing trauma. It offers particular insight into the spiritual experiences of children who have been hurt by life through chronic illness, disability, abuse, or disasters, with resources for healing and hope.

It’s a common trope that kids “bounce back” from whatever it is that bothers them. But it’s not so much that kids are adaptable or resilient as much as they often have little agency to change their situation or no ability to express or process their hurt. What at first seems like resilience is really something else entirely. Holly Catterton Allen calls readers away from this false and presumed resilience and toward a purposeful, formative resilience based in spiritual formation and development. Forming Resilient Children explores the role of spiritual formation in child development, noting how a child’s relationships and environment affect their overall resilience.

On one hand, nothing in the book was truly groundbreaking. On the other, that means that its principles are all straightforward and commonsensical. They can get lost amid the struggles of everyday life, but we all know that—or should know that—a child’s relationship with their parents and grandparents has an effect on their spiritual formation. What Allen does that’s unique is tie this in with resilience, the process of adapting well to adversity, trauma, or stress. The stronger the foundation of spiritual formation, the more likely a child is to be resilient.

One thing that I wish Allen would have addressed in more depth is causality. Children lacking in spiritual formation may also be more at-risk for abusive or traumatic experiences. The book details the role of parents and grandparents as key to spiritual formation, but those relationships are also the most common vectors for abuse and trauma. While Forming Resilient Children does speak to those in child-centric professions, I think more could have been done to practically engage with teachers, children’s and youth pastors, and coaches to develop appropriate responses as non-parental figures.

Overall, though, Forming Resilient Children offers a clear, academic, and cohesive model for building resiliency. Allen scatters the text with enough stories—there’s a whole chapter on the power of story—that key you in to the power and purpose of the work. Some of these stories take a child-centric focus on traumas like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina or the school shooting at Sandy Hook. Other stories are more personal, from the author’s own life. Through it all, I just kept coming back to “Yes, just treat them like little humans.” And that’s what it comes down to. You form resilient children not by treating them like emotionless baggage to carry through life, but you talk with them, relate to them, give them opportunities to have agency and express themselves. Resilience comes with a grasp of identity and humanity. When children understand who they are—as children of God—their ability to adapt and overcome is vastly improved.