I was two and a half, when I fell and cracked my head open. All I was trying to do was help my mom wash dishes. Standing on a chair I leaned over a bit too far, and we both came tumbling down. I was rushed to the hospital to stitch me up. When all was over, a kind policeman drove my mom and me home. Later that night, when my dad came home from work, I rushed to him with great zeal, “Daddy! Daddy!” I exclaimed, “A policeman took us home, but he didn’t shoot us!”
The impact of TV on an impressionable young mind.
That was over sixty years ago, when families had one TV and watched it together. That was when families had one radio and listened, as they sat round the dinner table. That was when the Internet, smartphones and social media were beyond science fiction.
Times of uncertainty aren’t new. Bigotry, hatred, violence, cruelty and craziness have been around since the beginning of time. The only difference is that today they are in our face 24/7. What once upon a time was happening in someone else’s backyard is now tapping at our window, and there is no protective shield to hide it from our kids.
Kids are like sponges. They absorb everything. There’s no way you can control what they’re exposed to. Sure, you can limit screen time and check out the kids they hang out with, but whether you like it or not their sensors are working overtime. And here’s the thing — it’s not just the detrimental content that’s flooding the media, which is crippling our kids with anxiety and fear. It’s the hidden messages in insignificant comments made in passing where least expected — at the mall, in the schoolyard and even at home — that are causing confusion and emotional discomfort.
The problem is that kids don’t always know how to distinguish between reality and fantasy, because they lack the necessary tools to process grown-up information, they don’t understand. As the responsible adults in their lives, it’s up to us to equip them — sooner rather than later. The time is now. Don’t wait until something happens to jump start the conversation.
The good news is that it’s not hard to do.
While we, ordinary moms and dads, have no control over what happens in the world, we do have control over what happens on our watch within our own homes. Every parent can perform four simple acts to help their kids deal with turmoil of emotions that come with the uncertainties of our times.
Share. Listen. Validate. Hug.
There is nothing kids want and need more than their parents’ time and undivided attention. Oftentimes, they are glued to the screen simply because they’re bored and have no one to talk to. More often than not, when they shrug their shoulders with indignation, slam doors in our face, or sit in silence glaring into space refusing to offer even mono-syllabic responses to our questions, they’re actually struggling with fear and confusion. They are trying to tell us something, but don’t know how.
It’s at these moments in time, when they need us most. And, it’s up to us to have a conversation. It doesn’t have to be complicated or a grandiose event — one of those “Okay kiddo, it’s time to talk!” On the contrary, keep it simple. The best conversations are those that happen spontaneously in the course of an ordinary day.
SHARE — It’s not easy for kids to open up, particularly when overcome with anxiety triggered by current events or happenings closer to home. A simple way to get them talking is by sharing in an age-appropriate manner your own thoughts, emotions and concerns about the trials and tribulations impacting your life . Talk about how you feel; express your own confusion, indignation or fears; better yet, share with them how you felt as a child when similar events touched your life. Remember! You can’t expect your kids to open up and share, if you yourself hold back and keep your own intimate feelings private.
LISTEN — I have found that once kids start talking and realize that they have an attentive ear, it’s hard to shut them up. They will ramble on and on. Think about it: most of their day is spent in the classroom, where they’re repeatedly told to be quiet. They not only have to wait their turn to speak, they have to wait until they’re granted permission. And, recess is not a time to talk. Recess is a time to play! So, it’s not as if they have a whole lot of opportunities to freely share what’s on their mind.
Listening to kids can be challenging at times. We don’t always get their jokes or understand what makes them tick. To be honest, their stories can get boring and the issues they’re preoccupied with often seem trivial compared with the problems we have on our mind. Nonetheless, if we want kids to talk about the important stuff, we need to listen to everything that comes with it — attentively, patiently without passing judgement.
VALIDATE — Kids, like adults, need to be validated — the assurance that what they’re feeling is okay — from panic and angst to hopes, crazy dreams, absurd ideas and extreme opinions. We don’t have to accept everything our kids say, think and feel. They are entitled to their own views and take on things, and you can agree to disagree. But, kids want to trust their parents enough to be able to express their thoughts without being judged or criticized. At the same time, as their parents, kids expect us to set boundaries and teach them to distinguish between right and wrong.
HUG — There’s nothing like a strong embrace to create a sense of security, ease stress, relieve anxiety and soothe pain. Hugs generate a powerful positive feeling that instils a sense of belonging and consequently reduces loneliness and confusion, particularly when one is overcome with fears and feels that the world is coming to an end.
Hugs are not meant solely for little ones. Hugs are not intended only for women. They work wonders for boys and young men, when given by both moms and dads. And, the magic of hugs is that they work both ways and impact all those involved in the act.
It’s time to Share. Listen. Validate. Hug.
It’s Time 2 Lead!
It’s time to THRIVE!
Originally published at medium.com