Helping Kids Cope When You’re Trying To Cope, Too

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By: Ali Kaufman, founder & CEO, Space of Mind

With so many pressing issues on our minds lately – hurricanes, nuclear bombs, healthcare, global climate change and racism – kids are paying a lot more attention to stressful situations. (And no doubt the adults in their lives are worrying more, too!) It’s important for parents and educators to remember that a child’s worldview isn’t really contextually prepared to digest such heavy duty topics. Yet, we can’t ignore them, either.

Talking to kids about topics that are hard for even adults to understand is tricky. First, remember that they are KIDS. Second, remember that they want (and need) to view the world through optimism. They don’t know all of the background information that you know, so be careful to filter your conversation through two very important skills that are key to processing (and tackling) scary and unfamiliar situations: resilience and gratitude.

Social and televised media are building audiences that are seeking calm for their fears. However, it’s our fears that tend to create our belief systems. Once a belief becomes concrete, it’s hard to differentiate fear-based reality from a reality rooted in optimism and creating solutions.

So, what do you do when your kids are anxious about life and you need to both be busy keeping everyone’s lives together and also explaining to them that sometimes life hands us unexpected challenges?

When times get tough, here are a few tips:

Acknowledge that something important is happening or has happened. You can’t hide the facts, so stick to them. Explain what is going on in the simplest terms.

Don’t avoid the scary part, but don’t make it so scary. This is a balancing act, to be sure, as you want to prepare a child that they may experience discomfort, but remind them that you are taking precautions to keep them safe.

Talk about pre and post-event procedures. Involve your kids in the preparations and give them roles in your family’s resilience plan.

Stay in touch with your own inner child. Keep it fun! Kids love games (and so do adults) so try to infuse some novelty into your preparations and discussions of serious matters. Most importantly, remember your child’s age and be sure to scale your conversations accordingly.

Keep your sense of humor. Rough times are the best times to create funny memories that can mark a milestone challenge better than a negative memory. Look for opportunities to share an inside joke with the ones you love. Instead of looking back later and remembering the scary or negative memories associated with a challenging moment, you’ll have some positive memories, too.

Debrief. Don’t just move on when the difficult moment passes. Kids (and adults) need some time to process life-changing events before getting back to regularly-scheduled routines. Keep checking in until you are sure that everyone has found their ease again.

Once we have moved beyond the challenge, it’s incredibly important to also show gratitude for those who provided support along the way. Involve your kids in thanking and contributing alongside others for the gifts and good fortune that we are given. Doing so creates connection between children and their community members; it also helps create meaning for our lives and positive memories from a difficult moment.

Leadership is rooted in one’s ability to channel resilience and gratitude into the community, and it’s a community’s responsibility to rebuild itself when knocked down by weather or current affairs. This starts with a child learning to rely on these skills as strengths within themselves. Though all adults wish they could protect children from life’s horrors, the best protection is really just providing them with the resilience to prepare for and then rise above the tough times and the gratitude to properly celebrate the good times.