255: The Role of Resilience in Prevention with Dr. Brenda Navarrete

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dr. Brenda Navarrete discuss the importance of building resilience in children as it can play a key role in prevention. They consider the characteristics that can be built in kids as protective factors to the challenging and difficult environments they face and how resilience can be taught at any age.

Brenda Navarrete, PhD

Dr. Navarrete provides therapeutic services and educational workshops at Alabaster Jar Project, a drop-in resource center and long-term residential program for women who have survived human trafficking and sexual exploitation in San Diego County.  She serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University for their Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate.  She earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Culture and Diversity Studies from Loma Linda University.  Dr. Navarrete’s clinical and training background includes assessment, evaluation, and therapeutic services in hospital, community mental health, residential, and juvenile detention settings.  She served as the Director of Clinical Training at Argosy University and has taught graduate psychology at various universities in Southern California.  She has promoted mental health awareness and facilitated program development for her local community and internationally in Rwanda and Honduras.  Dr. Navarrete served as the former president of the Inland Psychological Association.  Her research interests include social justice, human trafficking, gender equality and the academic achievement of at-risk youth. She has presented her research at professional conferences both locally and abroad.

Key Points

  • Resilience is what allows children to bounce back when faced with difficult situations and environments.
  • Resilience in children can be a key protective factor in human trafficking.
  • Children and adults can be taught resilience at any stage in their life.
  • Parents, teachers, and individuals in children’s lives all play a role in building resilience in the youth around them.
  • Some of the key characteristics of resilience discussed are: unconditional love, high expectations, competence, tenacity, connection, and coping.



Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 255, The Role of Resilience in Prevention with Dr. Brenda Navarrete.

Production Credits [00:00:11] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave [00:00:31] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:36] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:39] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, always a pleasure to be with you. And today I’m so glad to welcome to the show another member of our team here at Vanguard University, part of our instruction team. So glad to introduce to you Dr. Brenda Navarrete. She provides therapeutic services and educational workshops at Alabaster Jar Project, a drop-in resource center and long-term residential program for women who have survived human trafficking and sexual exploitation in San Diego County. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University and has taught graduate psychology at various universities in Southern California. Her clinical background includes assessment, evaluation, and therapeutic services in hospital community mental health, residential and juvenile detention settings. Brenda, we’re so glad to have you with us today.

Brenda [00:01:40] I’m honored to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Sandie [00:01:43] So, Dr. Brenda Navarrete, I am so excited to have you and have this discussion about the role of resilience in prevention. Everywhere I go, people ask me how to keep their children safe. And so many times it’s focused on what to do externally to keep the predators away from them and all these kinds of fear-based tactics. But you bring so much power and energy into the room with your focus on resilience. So, I want to start, first of all, with the question of what is resilience and why does it matter?

Brenda [00:02:32] Thank you so much, Sandie. So, I love this concept of resilience because there are so many things that we can’t change about our environment, our world, our circumstances. And the recent Covid pandemic is a recent example of that, right? We have already lived through that. We’ve already lived through. But there are some things that we do have some control over and there are some things that we can change, and we can focus on that. And that includes our mindset and our attitude. And so, I think that resilience building should be an ongoing preventative practice of parenting, teaching or mentoring youth, because, you know, it’s a practice that builds a child’s strength and it stores it for these unusually critical times when they’ll meet challenges or setbacks or obstacles.

Sandie [00:03:27] Wait, wait. I’m sorry. I’ve got to have you explain that. I have this image in my head of a bank and making deposits. How do you store resilience?

Brenda [00:03:38] Yes, I love that image. I think, you know, it really is this idea of building a mindset, of building a mindset that is capable of adapting and changing and knowing that our capacity to learn and to grow is not fixed, that it can change, and it can be built over time. So resiliency is that capacity to rise above difficult circumstances and the ability to recover from setbacks. It’s the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. It may be trauma or tragedy or change or just significant sources of stress and being able to bounce back or maybe even growing stronger because of these circumstances. And I like the idea of thinking of resilience as almost a form of buoyancy, right? So, when our bodies are pushed underwater, they instinctively rise back up to the surface. And I think that’s a really useful image to keep in mind as we talk about resiliency. It’s what we want young people to be able to do when they’re pushed under, to rise to the top again.

Sandie [00:04:51] So where do we start with building resilience?

Brenda [00:04:56] So this resilience movement started as an effort to figure out why do some kids from the same challenging or difficult environments achieve different levels of success and recovery from these difficult circumstances? So, researchers looked at what are these protective factors or what characteristics in kids’ lives buffered them from the difficulties that they were facing? So, I’ll go over some of the main things that, you know, kind of stood out to me in the research. One of the first things is unconditional love. And this may seem over simplistic or simple, but our love is the most protective and enduring force that we offer our children. So, in the resiliency research that I looked at when questionnaires were given to people who demonstrated exceptional resilience through particularly challenging circumstances and recovered successfully and did well, when they were asked, ‘What made the difference in your life?’, one of the most common threads was that they had at least one adult in their lives that loved them and believed in them unconditionally. So loving and believing in kids makes them know that they are worthy of being loved and that they are lovable at their very core. And this sense that they are worth being cared for offers that bedrock of self-regard that will affect their behaviors and their emotional well-being during childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. And it’s even that foundation from which they’ll approach the meaningful relationships in their life or even romantic relationships later in the future. And we can be, you know, the adult in the lives of kids, even if they’re not our own children.

Sandie [00:06:42] Wow. So, I heard you speak on this at a seminar that we did at the Global Center for Women and Justice for parents. It was called “Smart Mama’s, Safe Kids.” And we’ll put a link to that for those of you who missed it if you want to watch it. But one of the things that you said, and I wrote down and drew lots of lines to it is they need to hear it. And sometimes I feel like I’m just I’m being too talkative or whatever. But tell me about why it was so important that they need to hear it.

Brenda [00:07:23] Yes. So as parents or as mentors or guides to young people, we know that kids will often misinterpret or misunderstand the things that we do for them out of love. So things like setting rules or disciplining them or allowing them to make some safe mistakes. And that’s why we want to always express our love verbally. So using whatever words you’re comfortable with, that might be different for different people or different families, because it’s not always what we feel, it’s what they know we feel that offers them that protection. So, it’s not always what we do, but their understanding of why we do what we do that frames our relationship with them and shapes their reactions and their understanding of our guidance. So, I think we need to keep protecting and keep preparing our kids and keep guiding them. Or sometimes it might mean standing aside. But, in all of that, always remembering to let them know why we do these things.

Sandie [00:08:23] Wow. So parenting is tough, huh?

Brenda [00:08:26] Absolutely. One of the toughest things I’ve done.

Sandie [00:08:30] And so you talk about adult expectations. What does that look like for building resilience with kids?

Brenda [00:08:39] So adult expectations. And this is a concept that the concept that kids thrive when they have at least one adult who believes in them unconditionally and holds them to high expectations. So, you know, some listeners might ask, well, how can we be unconditional in our love and still have high expectations? But I love what Kenneth Ginsburg, who’s a big researcher in this field, and others have pointed out that our unconditional love has an even greater influence when it’s paired with high expectations. I think the key is understanding that when we talk about high expectations here, we’re not necessarily talking about kids getting straight A’s or pitching perfect ball games. It’s about holding young people accountable to being their best selves. So as parents or role models to kids, it’s about knowing who they really are and elevating their core goodness, their character. So things like being considerate of others, being responsible and respectful and kind. On the other hand, if we think, you know, if we expect kids to be lazy or argumentative or selfish, their behaviors are more likely to follow. We want our kids to look at the reflection in our eyes and measure their real worth, even during those times when other people are seeing them through their mistakes or characterizing them through the lens of their mistakes, as the people who know them best, our knowledge of all of their goodness and all of their potential that is still in them, even during those tough times, is what can bring them back to being their better selves.

Sandie [00:10:17] This idea of adult expectations really came home to me when I had a group of students in my office, and I was asking them about their journeys to a university. And I had just had a conversation with my own daughter who said to me, Mom, it was never an option for me not to go to college. I can’t remember how young I was the first time you said to me, when you go to college, and it was never if. And so, I shared that story with this group of students, some of whom had done the adverse childhood experiences quiz and felt really challenged until they did the follow up resilience quiz and saw how they had had some resilience built into them by the people in their lives, a teacher, a family member, even though they had encountered those adverse childhood experiences. So, what I want to know now is how do we actually begin to build that competence?

Brenda [00:11:33] So competence is our belief in our own abilities, and it’s acquired through actual experience. So we want young people to have high self-esteem, but it has to be earned and genuine, targeting information based on what they actually do. So in other words, we build competence by letting young people know their efforts lead to an outcome. This also lets them understand they have control. And we can help kids develop this real sense of competence by praising their efforts, not necessarily their intelligence or the end result. We want to recognize the process, not the product. So this might look like instead of saying ‘you are so smart’, you can say ‘you kept trying until you got it.’ ‘I love how you never give up.’ Or instead of saying ‘you’re such a great artist,’ we can be more specific and say, ‘tell me about your picture. I see bright yellow swirls and lots of contrast.’ And we can identify and help them develop some of their strengths and give them opportunities for success that are challenging but realistic for them. And we can empower them to problem solve and see challenges as problems to be solved.

Sandie [00:12:49] Well, and that makes it much more individual. So then it’s not a question of me saying you’re smarter than Sally that’s sitting next to you.

Brenda [00:13:00] Absolutely. Absolutely. I think the concept is that it’s not something that is fixed. It’s something that can be developed. Again, you know, going back to that original comment, it’s something that is always evolving. And we are always in the process of becoming. And we want to make sure that we send that message to them and, you know, even as children.

Sandie [00:13:28] For me personally, this has been an important understanding as I’ve grown and changed careers, knowing that I didn’t reach a line where I’m done and now there’s nothing else for me. And I meet so many kids who have said to me, well, I’m just going to get a job. I can’t go to school; I can’t do this. They have a whole list of things they can’t do. And I don’t understand those limitations, that to me, I see potential for them. And I want adults who work with kids to see that potential and speak that into them and create those open borders for them so that they begin to make those resiliency layers you called them. It feels almost like every time you lay down another layer, they’re going to have more buoyancy and pop back up. Because you’re right, we cannot protect them from everything that is out there.

Brenda [00:14:40] Yes. You know, this reminds me at the last Ensure Justice conference you shared about the six domains of resilience developed by Rossouw and some others, and one of those components was tenacity. And this kind of reminds me of that concept and I just, I feel like that’s such an important part of resiliency. It’s the idea of persistence and a mindset of being willing to work hard and staying with problems if we hope to achieve something special. You know, even Albert Einstein, who’s thought of as having one of the greatest minds and being one of the greatest physicists of all time said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” And I love this quote, because as we all know, Einstein was a genius and even he attributed his success to the idea of sticking with it and the power of tenacity and grit. And we build that tenacity in kids when we teach them how to learn from their mistakes. You know, we know that we almost never do things right the first time. At least I can speak for myself when I say that I often make mistakes, even with things that I know how to do well, you know, but it’s important how we react to our mistakes. It’s important to be able to objectively look at our mistakes, find lessons in them, and not be defined by them. In other words, failure is not a permanent state. We want to guide kids to see their setbacks as opportunities to try again and see their limitations as challenges they have not yet learned to overcome. I love that power of yet. You know, that’s a powerful word I think that we should always carry with us.

Sandie [00:16:22] Wow, I haven’t done that yet, but I will. I will. I grew up and my mother used to call me stubborn, and I thought that was a bad thing until I learned the word tenacity. I want every kid to know the word tenacity because that is the difference between success and failure, because it with tenacity, failure isn’t the end, it’s an opportunity to try another way. Yeah, I love the story of Einstein. So let’s talk about what this looks like for parents in the home, building this connection to resilience.

Brenda [00:17:05] So connection. And some researchers refer to this as collaboration, and it’s the idea that we are social beings and that our brain has this deep and fundamental need for connection with others to be able to thrive. Kids with those close ties to their family and their friends and their schools and, you know, organizations or people in their community, are more likely to have a solid sense of security and that will make them less likely to seek undermining relationships for love and attention. I like to visualize this connection and support as concentric circles of guidance and opportunities and protection. So visualize with me concentric circles, meaning that there’s a small center circle and then a larger ring outside of that, and then a larger ring outside of that and so on. So different sized circles or rings with a common center. So for example, a target or a bull’s eye or a stump of an old tree are common examples that we see of concentric circles. Now, using that image, we have the first and most important protective layer in the center, which is the parent’s unconditional love and support and their high expectations. Now, other layers extending out from that might include extended family, positive peers, school, and community. And each diagram will look a little different for each family. So your community might be a religious or spiritual organization like a youth group, or it may be sports leagues or Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. And I like to think of it as these circles being made of Swiss cheese. So none of us is perfect and there will inevitably be holes or unintended gaps in our guidance. So if there’s a hole or a gap in an area of our guidance as parents, for example, in the center circle and our kids fall through, their needs can be caught at that next layer of support, maybe with an extended family member like an aunt or a grandparent, or at the next layer, maybe with a youth group leader or a teacher or a coach.

Sandie [00:19:18] OK, I’m getting the image of the concentric circles. So they actually become safety nets when there’s holes, the Swiss cheese effect that you’re talking about. So if I’m not a perfect parent, it’s not going to all fall apart if we’ve built those opportunities for connection in our community?

Brenda [00:19:44] Absolutely. We are in this together. You know, we go back to that old saying it takes a village. And I think if we are intentional in who we include in our village and create these nets of support, it will really benefit our kids during those times where, you know, we may not be able to be there for them for one reason or another.

Sandie [00:20:05] Wow. So this makes me start thinking about some of my studies in intercultural studies, because you and I both know here in our Western culture, we tend to speak in a very individualistic way. I do this and I have a nuclear family, but in most of the rest of the world, it is more of a we culture. And there is an expectation for much more connection outside of the nuclear family, extended family, maybe several generations, neighborhood communities. Everybody is really talking about this from a we perspective. It’s not all on I. And I think there’s some security for a parent to feel like I’m sharing this with other people. If this isn’t all on me. And I think of my daughter, a single mom, and how important it was for my grandkids to have extended family. And now I’m going to talk to my daughter about the Swiss cheese effect and how she literally created the opportunity for us to be a part of her kids’ lives because she could see how important that was to their more complete development and making sure that they had that resilience. What would you say to parents who were trying to help their kids learn better resilience, maybe coping strategies?

Brenda [00:21:57] Yes. So I think, you know, something that is so important, and it might be one of the most important factors in resiliency is coping or composure. So as we all know, adversity is inevitable. So, perhaps one of the biggest umbrella jobs that we have as a parent or a role model in the lives of young people is to teach them how to self-regulate and respond in adaptable ways to stress so we can function, and we can thrive. You know, a lot of my work with people in recovery from alcohol and drugs has been teaching them how to allow themselves to sit with those difficult feelings and to endure their big emotions and then choose to cope in healthy ways, because many of them learned at an early age that healthy expressions of emotion, so things like crying or talking about them or venting wasn’t acceptable. So they turn to things like drinking, aggression or drugs instead that gave them that instant relief or even just a numbing of their big feeling. So having some positive coping strategies helps can help them manage stress without turning to those quick and easy, but dangerous, fixes that we all refer to as the risk behaviors.

Sandie [00:23:16] So give me some examples of some coping strategies. And I love– I’m going to interrupt myself because you said something really important. It was unacceptable to have those outbursts to cry. And I’m, you know, my background’s pediatric nursing. And I’m always telling young moms and dads how important it is to let your kids know that you understand that something isn’t right in their world. They may not be able to even express it. And so you pick them up and you hold them. And that’s how attachment is developed when we respond to the hurt or the fear or the need in a child’s expression, instead of saying, be quiet, shut up, all of those kinds of things. And I was really careful about that when my children were really small. I was really attentive to their needs, and I remember still losing my temper with my four-year-old and how crushed she was and she started crying more. And Brenda, I said, wait, wait, what’s wrong now? Because this I could hear was heartbroken tears. And here’s what she said to me that changed my thinking even more. She said, “You said, shut up to me.” Our kids need to be heard.

Brenda [00:24:58] Yes, absolutely. I think we can all probably think back at times where we’ve said or done things similar to your story, you know, where we say it’s not a big deal right now. Instead of saying to them it may be a big deal, as unimportant as it may seem to us, I think one of the things that I always try to keep in mind when I talk to my kids, and not that I always do a great job at it, but is how would I like to be spoken to if something was as crushing to me that made me break down in tears? How would I want someone to respond to me? And sometimes we don’t as a society, place that kind of value on children’s needs and emotions just because they might be a little different from ours as adults. And so recognizing that they deserve to have that kind of validation and recognition and be spoken to in a respectful way, just as we would like to be spoken to.

Sandie [00:26:02] Wow. So some of these coping strategies, you gave us a long list and I’m going to like put that slide in our show notes because we don’t have time to go over all of them. There’s all kinds of things here, doing a puzzle. But the one that really stood out to me was do something kind for someone else. Can you talk about that?

Brenda [00:26:29] Yes. So I think that there is so much value in teaching our kids how to find their purpose and the value in doing something for others. I think there’s so much value in teaching our kids their contribution, the role of their contribution. I think it’s a powerful lesson when they realize that the world is a better place because they’re part of it and because they’re in it. When they understand the importance of their personal contribution and the difference that they can make in the world, I think they gain a sense of purpose that is very rewarding. It can be motivating, empowering. And even in those moments when they’re trying to cope, it helps them be able to stand outside of their own emotions and give to others. And there’s a lot of great things that kids can do to volunteer and build their sense of contribution. They can do things like creating cards or drawings for patients at a local hospital or a nursing home. They can be part of gathering or donating unused items for a shelter, a refugee center, or a charity thrift store. They can make kindness rocks. I’ve done that with my kids where we paint some rocks and write some positive messages and then place them around their school or their communities just to cheer people up. And this helps them find a sense of purpose and value. And it can be very healing and comforting for them as well.

Sandie [00:28:12] I love that because it does build our own resilience when we see that we have value to someone else and that’s powerful. Last minute, Brenda, what do you want to leave as your final thought about resilience?

Brenda [00:28:34] I think one of the things that I’ve been most amazed by as a parent is children’s natural spirit of resiliency and determination since birth. And I think we can all think of examples where we’ve witnessed our kids’ resilient qualities over and over again. Think of all the milestones they’ve reached up until this point when they were learning to speak, to walk, to feed themselves, or ride a car, or I’m sorry, ride a bike or drive a car. And they persevered through the pain of, whether that was scraped knees or bloody noses and failed attempts, and they wiped away their tears and just kept trying until they mastered their chosen goal. I think it’s really important to keep in mind that these resilient qualities are a part of them already and have been there from the beginning, but they can also be built up. It’s not a fixed characteristic. It can be nurtured and developed. And I also just want to say that in all of this, we have to keep in mind that kids are watching, they are watching us as they’re role models. And so, we have to be intentional in the ways that we build our own resiliency as well, and that we model all of these characteristics for our kids.

Sandie [00:29:51] Thank you so much, Brenda. This has been a wonderful conversation. And I’m inspired because I know that as I build out my concentric circles, I can plug a hole where someone else maybe hasn’t had a chance to fill that part in. And every kid who has resilience in their lives will be able to pick themselves up and move forward in ways that are positive and constructive and will make them less vulnerable to any of the issues that we talk about on this podcast with the most vulnerable kids who are often recruited and exploited, not because of who they are, but because they don’t have those layers and layers of resiliency. So I want to challenge people to learn more about the positive ways to do prevention, to build resilience, and not just be thinking about how can I build a fence around my child, but let’s build strong children.

Dave [00:31:14] Sandie and Brenda, thank you so much for this conversation. Sandie, I’m going to echo the challenge you’ve given to us by inviting everyone listening to go and check out the episode notes. We’re going to be linking up to all the key references we’ve made today. And you have heard that Brenda’s part of our adjunct faculty here at Vanguard University and perhaps you’d like to learn more and really dive in on detail. The Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate program is available, details at endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s also where you can find all the episode notes and details on this conversation and so many others. And before you even check out the certificate program, you may want to take the very first step just to learn a bit more, especially if you’re listening to the episode or the show for the first or second time. Go ahead and hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. That’s also at endinghumantrafficking.org. And the guide will teach you the five critical things that Sandie’s identified that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. Again, get access to it by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. It’s also the best place to go for information about the certificate program and everything else we’re doing here through the podcast and the Global Center for Women and Justice. As always, we will be back again for our next conversation in two weeks. Sandie and Brenda, thank you so much. And look forward to seeing you then. Take care, everybody.

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