My daughters are obsessed with genies lately.
So last week my mother-in-law surprised them by mailing a genie costume complete with a “magical flying carpet” (a/k/a bathroom rug) and a princess dress (because those are always welcomed, of course).
My girls immediately hopped on their magical carpet, closed their eyes and pretended they were flying through the sky to Grandma’s house. I watched in awe as they got lost in giggles, imaginary clouds and the details of grandma’s far away living room. I wanted to bottle up their innocence and belief in magic so they could hold onto it forever.
The next morning, I took my four-year-old to school on the subway…
The woman sitting next to her had her newspaper open, full of pictures of dead bodies. I subtly adjusted my daughter’s angle to block her view, selfishly thankful that she was too young to hear the news or pick up on the pit in my stomach.
We never put the news on when my little ones are home. They’re too young to hear the horrors of the world. But I know that will change soon and they will one day have so many questions. Questions I worry I won’t have the answers to.
When the time comes, I want to be prepared. I want to have strategies for how I will respond, how I will comfort them and make them feel safe. So I researched, attended school meetings and talked to other parents.
Below are some of the strategies I will turn to when my children learn about the scarier sides of the world we live in. I clearly don’t have all the answers. I’m sure I will make mistakes, but I pray my responses help preserve their belief in the magic and goodness of the world.
1. Share Only What’s Necessary.
To the extent you can, filter the information your kids read or watch in an age-appropriate manner.
Avoid sharing unnecessary images or details that might frighten them. Ask them to share everything they’ve already heard or seen so you know what they’re processing and can adjust the support you provide as necessary. Teach them the value of protecting themselves from consuming too much information.
2. Let Them Know Why They’re Safe.
Remind your child that your number one job is to keep them safe and that you take that job very seriously. If they seem fearful after finding out about a tragedy, explain to them all of the ways they are safe in the present moment (e.g., we are home now, in a safe place, with safe people around us).
Discuss all the things you, their school, their caregivers and authorities (like the government and police) do to ensure their ongoing safety.
3. Validate Their Feelings.
This is one of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever received. I channel this advice daily as I navigate my children’s’ big feelings and I know it will come in handy when they learn more about the scarier sides of humanity. Simply validating why they feel the way they do allows them to work through their feelings fully without shame or embarrassment.
Every time I do this, it’s like emotional walls get knocked down, instead of put up. To validate their feelings, I simply listen to what they have to say and more or less repeat it back to them to show that I understand. It’s so simple, yet so effective. It lets them know that they were heard and their feelings are important. And it helps me to be a more present listener. When life gets really scary, I know this will be one of my best tools.
4. Be Their Safe Place.
Let your child know that they can speak to you about anything. Welcome any questions they might have. Let them know you are there for them whenever they want to discuss things. Tell them there is no question they can’t ask and no feeling they can’t share with you.
Do what you can to create a safe feeling for them in the moment, whether cuddling up with them on the couch to watch a movie or taking a walk together outside ~ give them your time, attention and comforting presence.
5. Focus on the Helpers.
“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~ Fred Rogers
I love this Mr. Rogers quote. No matter how awful what happens in the world is, there are always helpers you can focus on. When I lost my best friend on 9/11, the tragedy that hit closest to home for me, it was the helpers that lifted me up.
They were everywhere. They are everywhere. They are the light in every dark tragedy. Speak to your child about them as much as you do about the tragedy itself.
It’s so easy to get lost in the darkness. Help your child to see (and be) the light. Talk to them about ideas for helping those who were affected by the tragedy. Let them know that while we can’t save or heal the whole world, the smallest contributions and acts of kindness do matter.
Shine the Light
I know I can’t protect my family from all of the dangers lurking around us, and when I sit with that thought for too long, it feels unbearable… But I can be their safe place and help them to see that no matter what happens, there is far more light and magic in the world than there is darkness.
And I can do my best to show them that we can help to shine that light.
Have you ever had to speak to a child about frightening world events?
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