What a sad and scary week for our country. I saw a meme yesterday that said something to the effect of, “Hey, 2021, I want my money back…the 7 day trial didn’t work out so well.” As parents, we ourselves are likely struggling with how to cope with the Capitol riots, the political unrest as inauguration nears, and the continued rise in COVID-related deaths. This struggle may feel particularly daunting right now since many of us entered 2021 with high hopes for finding that elusive “light at the end of the tunnel”. So how can we take care of ourselves and our children when things in our world feel so tenuous? How can we help our children feel safe when safety seems hard to find? It may not be easy to achieve but the answer is simple…let’s go back to the basics of communicating, educating, and supporting within our families.
- COMMUNICATE. This is a time where it is important for families to come together and talk about what is happening. Listen to your children’s questions, openly address what is going on (at a developmentally appropriate level), and allow the conversations to head wherever they need to. In order to feel safe right now, children need to know that their family is a place where they can explore and work through their questions, feelings, worries, concerns, opinions, etc. While we may be tempted to shield our children from the pain and trauma that is unfolding, they often know more than we think and have more questions than we realize.
- EDUCATE. This time in our world is an invaluable opportunity to educate our children about many meaningful topics such as race relations, politics, power, moral and ethical dilemmas, science, etc. We can set the stage for critical thinking by encouraging a meaningful and thoughtful exploration of the current state of our world with our children. Watching news reports, reading articles and books, studying history, and talking to a wide variety of people helps inform our children about what is happening and allows them to form their own opinions about different topics. (As always, it is important to educate our children at a developmentally appropriate level…for instance, our younger children might not be ready to watch a primetime news report but our teens will likely benefit from doing so.) It also is important to keep in mind that our children (and growing teens in particular) may have different opinions than we do. It is not imperative for them to share our same opinions. Rather, it is important to teach our children how to think critically and how to sort through different opinions, viewpoints, and sources of information to come to their own convictions.
- SUPPORT. Above all else right now, children need to know they can receive support and understanding in their homes. With the multiple dangers in our world that seem to be coming closer and closer each day, safety at home takes on an even greater importance. Yes, that means helping children stay safe physically (i.e., wear a mask, social distance). However, it also means staying safe emotionally. It is important to pay attention to what it takes for each of us and our children to feel safe. Maybe it means more hugs. Maybe family movie night (with a funny comedy to distract us from the world for a bit). Maybe laying together for a bit longer before bedtime. There is no right or wrong on how to help your child feel supported or safe but putting extra time and attention into doing so as the chaos in our world continues will have tremendous benefits for the entire family.
Kelly Theis, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist