I think there are two ways to build a child’s – a person’s – capacity to handle adversity in life. Both deal with the creation of personal understanding. One must understand adversity in order to be able to deal with it.
One way is the really bad way – personal suffering. How to understand hunger and poverty? Experience it yourself. How to understand the disabled? Lose an arm yourself. How to understand death? Lose a loved one yourself.
The other way is much more desirable, but it escapes many. It’s called empathy. Many people today can’t handle adversity in life because, quite simply, they never cared about it before. They never thought about it. They couldn’t care less if others suffered. So when they themselves suffer… they have no understanding of it at all, including how to get over it.
Empathy is about engaging one’s emotional core, to be able to feel the pain of others. Sounds easy, but simple truth is very few people have good EQ.
How does one "train" empathy? Actually, the resources available are plentiful. The trick is to find the right one that will "break" your child.
What are these resources? Could be a sad story book, a movie with a sad scene, an entire tragic film, etc.
For me, the first time I broke down and cried in empathy was when I read a particular novel when I was age 12. One of the heroes died a tragic death.
For my daughter, she was 5 when she first saw Totoro (Miyazaki’s film) where the elder sister breaks down in tears when she thinks her mother is going to die. Somewhat to my surprise, my girl spontaneously burst into tears during this scene. I was actually glad something had touched her empathic core. This is important.
Many people today still think that mass media entainment, including movies, books, TV shows, are just that – entertainment. But some people know that they can be very moving. While many stories are fictional, the important thing is that they can touch people emotionally. This is valuable life experience without having to suffer yourself. Incidentally, this is also one of the values of studying literature in school, in case anyone ever wondered.
So, I would say – as soon as it’s appropriate, let your child watch/read some of these. Some, like Totoro, look like harmless cartoons but in fact are incredible works of art on many levels. (However, I still refuse to watch Grave of the Fireflies, too sad.) It will teach them both the good and the tragic bits of life.
These are much better alternatives than showing your child useless scenes of violence, war, disease, politicking on the news. These will just desensitize them, and tell them that the world is a mess not worth living in.