Did you ever wonder why babies quickly develop a social smile and look you in the eyes? Is it surprising to learn that the muscles in your ears are set within the range of women’s voices at birth or that babies prefer looking at women’s faces versus men? Seeing a baby ignites rapid brain activity. In fact, researchers at the Institute of Child Health and Development find that the “cuteness” we associate with babies may help to facilitate well-being and complex social relationships by activating brain networks associated with emotion and pleasure as well as triggering empathy and compassion. In a seventh of a second, the orbitofrontal part of our brain becomes active at the sight of a baby. This rapid activity may partly explain how babies of any species appropriate our attention so quickly and completely.
What is the force behind these phenomena? The answer is a single word – instinct! It is our contention that in complex species instincts serve a critical role in shaping the developmental course through childhood into adulthood. Thousands of generations of children allowed for many genetic mutations, some of which were adaptive. Some of these increased the likelihood that babies would survive, even thrive throughout their childhood, and transition successfully into adult life. Babies are born completely helpless. They are not salmon or snakes ready at birth to survive solely by relying on their instincts. They require more than a single parent like bear cubs or just a few years in a family group like higher primates, until they are ready to transition into adulthood. In our world today, we have continued to extend childhood. Some parents have observed that children do not grow up until they are thirty!
Does an infant decide that a particular female will care for and protect her during her most vulnerable years? Is a young child aware that if he just keeps making noises eventually, he will speak? Why does a toddler keep scribbling until eventually she draws or writes something meaningful? Do children know that if they just stand up, no matter how many times they fall down, they will eventually walk?
Tenacity is composed of seven instincts that we will articulate in detail in this book. We consider one of the most important to be intuitive optimism. This is the unspoken belief that if you just keep at a task your chances of success are greater. We would argue that when it comes to reaching developmental milestones continued effort nearly always leads to success as long as the task is within the capacities of the child to achieve. This instinct is clearly a vital component of self-discipline and a resilient mindset.
Our children are in fact hard-wired to learn if we are sufficiently knowledgeable to understand how their wiring interacts with the world around them and create environments in which they can grow and thrive. Every society places expectations upon its youth to acquire a certain level of knowledge and behavior in order to functionally transition into adulthood. No matter how simple the society, children must harness their instincts to acquire knowledge, develop self-discipline, cope well with adversity, and persist even in the face of failure. The instincts comprising tenacity provide the critical foundation for children in any culture or society to acquire necessary knowledge to move successfully into adult life.
The role of parents
For thousands of generations, parents, relatives, and the extended community raised and prepared children to become successful adults, to acquire knowledge, and strengthen the abilities needed to meet the challenges of their time. How did they do it? Until relatively recent times in human history there were no schools or organized institutions, nor were there self-help or parenting books. We believe the foundation of this process was accomplished by drawing upon seven important instincts that evolved over tens if not hundreds of thousands of years in ours and other hominid species.
In some species instincts are fixed patterns of behavior leading to a certain outcome such as a bird building a nest for the first time or a salmon returning upriver to its birthplace to spawn. We believe that in our species instincts represent an intuitive way of thinking and/or acting that increase the chances of survival and success. In viewing instincts in this way we appreciate that knowing what to do and doing what you know are not synonymous and are very much dependent on experience. These instincts are more important than ever in preparing today’s children for tomorrow’s successes.
Tenacity provides the power to build self-discipline and resilience. For these instincts to develop and flourish they require the nurturing and support of caring, knowledgeable adults. In short, it is our job to help children harness the power of their instincts.
The seven instincts of tenacity
Parents effectively engaging in the processes necessary to foster and reinforce these instincts possess an implicit, explicit, or even intuitive understanding of how they can help their children acquire self-discipline and a resilient mindset. In our first book, we suggested that capable parents’ guide their interactions with children through a blueprint of important principles, ideas, and actions. We pointed out that grasping the complexities of this blueprint is an ongoing process filled with challenges, frustrations, setbacks, and successes.
We have come to appreciate that there is much variability housed in this blueprint of knowledge, ideas, and actions, a blueprint that to be effective requires some modification for each child. Though you may wish for the one true, golden path to your child’s future, such a path doesn’t exist. However, understanding the role of these seven instincts will comfort and provide you with the knowledge to help your children. While the path to adulthood is shaped by countless factors including your children’s temperament, family style and values, educational and social experiences, and the broader society and culture in which you raise children, the principles and ideas of these instincts are universal and applicable for everyone.
The seven instincts of tenacity are:
- Intuitive Optimism
- Intrinsic Motivation
- Compassionate Empathy
- Simultaneous Intelligence
- Genuine Altruism
- Virtuous Responsibility
- Measured Fairness
Sam Goldstein and Robert B. Brooks are psychologists and authors of Tenacity in Children: Nurturing the Seven Instincts for Lifetime Success.
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