Friday, December 14, 2012

What About the Children? Helping kids when something awful has happened.

In the years I worked as a religious educator, I was sometimes called on to help guide families through traumatic times. There is no easy way to approach how to help children in times of trauma, and there’s not one answer. It’s all hard. This is a time to be gentle with ourselves and with each other.
But there are ways to help, that can make a difference. I’ll share a few, but I’d love to hear what you know, too.
Realize that children are much more aware of what is happening around you than you may think. Some children have a magic radar and will squint at you, tilt their head to the side and say “why are you sad?” Avoiding the topic isn’t a good idea, that teaches children that things that upset us are meant to be ignored, covered up and not let out for open discussion.
This doesn’t mean we should plant ourselves in front of the images of tragedy on television or the internet, or even to listen to blanket coverage on the radio. Give your home and car some peace and quiet. Or some music. Then, approach the tragedy in an age appropriate way, knowing that you are the expert on your own child and if you tune into the love and care you have for your child first, you’re likely to do just fine. A little prayer always helps.
Little ones want to hear “we love you and we’ll keep you safe” teens may want to talk about action that they can take to make things better. Middle aged kids, ages 7-10, probably want to know some facts and hear that in all likelihood that they’ll be safe. But of course some kids are anxious kids who will need more reassurances. Some kids need information and will want to know how the tragedy happened, what they should do if it happens to them, how likely it is that this will happen in their school or neighborhood. Don’t wait for your child to ask, but do try to follow their lead in how to deal with the information and support. Be honest. Be gentle. Lead with love.
A couple of things to remember:
  • keep yourself calm
  • do normal things; cook, go to the park, sit at the table and eat graham crackers or play checkers
  • find a way to do something to help; write a card, donate a little money
  • if you have a religious practice, use it, in times of crisis for my family we sometimes light a chalice, a symbol of our faith
For more real hands-on helping information, I always turn to Mister Rogers. There’s a great resource here.
But for me the most important thing for us all to remember is to take Mister Rogers advice and to look for the helpers. I heard a report that after the shooting today, children were taken into the homes of neighbors while they sorted out how to get them all safe. There are always heroes and helpers, regular old people who step up to take care of each other. I try to live my life with this right on the top of my mind all the time, but it’s important to share it with our young ones during scary times. Look for the helpers, if we pay more attention to the helpers than the bad guys, then we’re likely to keep our chin pointed in the right direction–toward love. The truth is we can’t keep our kids safe every minute, but we can’t lock them in the house. We have to try to trust that other loving and caring people will help us keep our kids safe.
At the high school that two of my sons attend, two young women have been killed in the last three years. They were both killed by ex-boyfriends, one around the corner from school as the students were headed in for classes. There is nothing that makes it all better, but they found that being with friends helped. Candle-light vigils helped, but for my oldest son who had had classes with the girl, what really helped was to stay after the vigil, to clean up. To collect the things people left behind to give to the parents of the girl who died. He’s become one of the helpers.
Take care and don’t rush things today. Call someone and tell them how much you love them. Thank the grocery clerk with a big smile. Send out love through every cell of your being. Be a helper.
I’m going to wrap some Christmas presents. Bake some cookies. Put out new suet for the birds. And clean, cleaning always helps me put the world in order.
Prayers for peace and love, to all. Amen.
(cross posted on the new blog, The Natural Happy Store)

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