Nurturing the Seven Instincts of Tenacity

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Nurturing the Seven Instincts of Tenacity

In our new book, Tenacity in Children, we propose that the lengthy transition from childhood to adulthood must be built on a foundation of the seven instincts we have placed under the umbrella of Tenacity. We must reframe how we parent, educate, and socialize our children if we are to prepare them for a future few if any of us can imagine. Over tens of thousands of years these instincts, these forces that are present from birth, have provided us with untold advantages. Unfortunately, we have failed to sufficiently appreciate or identify those instincts that are most powerful in shaping child development and adult life. Whether or not we realized it, we have until recently, parented and educated from the position that children are tabula rasa or blank slates waiting to be infused with knowledge.

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, Raising Resilient Children, we suggested that these 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; that to be effective requires modification for each child. Though parents may wish for the one true, golden path to their children’s future, such a path doesn’t exist. However, understanding the role of these seven instincts and the ways in which they interact with each other will comfort and provide parents, educators, and other professionals with the knowledge to help all children. While the path to adulthood is shaped by countless factors including children’s temperament, family style and values, educational and social experiences, and the broader society and culture in which we raise children, the principles and ideas of these instincts are universal and applicable to everyone.

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 are very aware that knowing what to do and doing what you know are not synonymous and are very much dependent on experience. The process of nurturing these instincts is more important than ever in preparing today’s children for tomorrow’s successes.

The remainder of this short article briefly introduces each of these seven instincts and provides a brief description of the ways in which each influences development. A chapter is devoted to each instinct in our new book containing information, ideas, and strategies. As the following descriptions these instincts intertwine with each other to produce a strong, lifelong fabric.

Intuitive Optimism is the belief that gratifying and successful outcomes can be achieved despite existing challenges. Children retain the belief that with perseverance as well as assistance when necessary from parents and educators, they will ultimately experience success. Strategies to foster Intuitive Optimism include: reinforcing a sense of personal control from an early age, teaching problem-solving strategies, identifying strengths to build confidence, and helping children view setbacks and mistakes as experiences from which to learn.

Intrinsic Motivation posits that children are motivated to engage in tasks when certain inner needs are being met without the presence of contingent rewards. These needs include: belonging and connecting with others, providing a feeling of security; self-determination and autonomy, reinforcing a belief that they are being heard, respected, and that they have input into situations impacting their lives; competency as the source of a child’s ability to successfully perform, master tasks, and reach goals in their world; and a sense of purpose, often represented by children subscribing to a greater good.

Compassionate Empathy is composed of two main dimensions: empathy is the ability to understand the world of another person both on an affective and cognitive level, while compassion involves using that understanding to initiate actions that express caring towards others. This instinct serves our deepest needs to survive, to connect, and to find our partners in life. Using empathic communication with our children can secure important benefits, including having enriched relationships with them. This provides the opportunity for children to nurture this instinct in themselves and thereby connect in a more gratifying way to others.

Simultaneous Intelligence is how different pieces of information fit together into a whole in order to understand, interpret, and solve problems. Children become more effective critical thinkers and problem solvers when they create categories and classify items, identify relevant information, construct and recognize valid deductive arguments, recognize reasoning fallacies, and distinguish between evidence and interpretations of evidence. Parents and teachers can reinforce this instinct whenever children are navigating through problems by encouraging them to consider alternative explanations and solutions, talk about biases, ask open-ended questions, and encourage thinking in new ways.

Genuine Altruism is an unselfish concern for others, represented by acting to alleviate their distress with no expectation of reciprocation. Altruism is an instinct worthy of cultivation through socialization and modeling. Children benefit from helping others. These actions improve mood, behavior, and self-image; reinforce positive relationships with others; and encourage a sense of purpose. As children observe and practice altruistic words and actions, they are inspired for this instinct to reach its full expression.

Virtuous Responsibility is the ethical and moral responsibility we have to enhance the lives of family, friends, and members of our society. This instinct extends beyond the scope of helping others, because it involves making decisions and engaging in behaviors that demonstrate that we can be trusted and accountable for our actions. Assuming responsibility is rooted in the ways in which parents and caregivers discipline children in order to nurture qualities of self-discipline and accountability.

Measured Fairness is an important foundation of morality and the evolution of cooperation in human beings. It is allied to pro-social behaviors such as effective communication, empathy, cooperation, problem-solving skills, and forgiveness as the basic underpinnings of connected, generous, and successful lives. This instinct is nurtured in children by helping them develop a sense of personal control. They learn to believe that while they may not always have control over challenging situations, they do have control over their attitude and response to these situations.