Early on a Saturday morning this summer, I opened up the news feed on my computer, intending to check in before groggily going downstairs to see what we had to scrounge up for breakfast. As I saw headlines of another deadly shooting, this one affecting Dallas Police Officers, my heart ached and my stomach clenched. The first thing that came to mind was,”What do I say to my kids?”
On another day, I opened up my email to this sweet message: “Sheila, I live in Maine, but I want my kids to help the families that were flooded out of their homes in Louisiana? How do we do that? I don’t want to overwhelm my kids, but we do want to help.”
A different day found me sitting poolside while my boys finished up their last swim team practice. As I watched Little Brother master the flip-turn, I heard loud conversation across the pool as two teenagers discussed another tragedy but with the worst form of information. Description full of wrong facts, emotive words filled with hate, and judgmental statements were expressed right beside my older son. He sat there, stunned, not knowing what to say but knowing that something was wrong with how they were treating others in their conversation. He quietly ran over to me and said, “Mom, is what they are saying true?” And I was faced with the situation of pulling apart half-truths, bigoted opinions, and reframing it to better view the situation with compassion.
The world is quickly becoming full of situations where our children are exposed to the “bad things” of this world. For some of our kids, all they need do is walk outside and they immediately feel unsafe. For some of our kids, a “bad thing” has happened at home. For some of our kids, a “bad thing” is connected to a trusted adult. For others, even with the tightest media security, they are exposed to “bad things” through an online device.
So, my fellow caring friends, what is our responsibility to our kids? How do we rise to this challenge?
I think that our responsibility is twofold.
- Don’t hide the bad things that happen. Your kids will hear about it. They will (and they may or may not tell you they heard about it). Let’s learn how to engage our kids in understanding what is happening around them to better EQUIP them to manage what is going on in their world.
- Teach your kids how to respond constructively and positively. I believe that true resilience and hope, in the face of a personal or worldwide tragedy, is the example that we set for our kids and how we teach them to respond to the “bad thing” that happened.
“Sheila, I don’t want to kill the magic of my son’s childhood.” I know. I know. But, if you consider that your son is hearing information without you, wouldn’t you rather be the one that frames the information in a way that is age appropriate and provide a supportive moment to help your child process and understand?
“Sheila, I am just going to wait until he is a teenager. Right now, he only cares about playing football.” My shoulders and head actually slumped when I heard this. Do we really believe that our children aren’t affected by the world around them? Do we really believe that our children are incapable of feeling compassion and showing empathy before they are teens? Do we really believe that if we wait to help our kids that they will “automatically” have the skills to compassionately problem solve as a teenager?
This does not mean opening up the very sensational and rough media footage that is out there and showing it to you kids.
What does it mean?
Navigating our world and teaching the generation that will fill the shoes of leadership means that we, as the adults, can’t teach our kids to be fearful.
“Sheila, what can we do? How do I do this?”
First, we make a decision that we are going to pull away the fear that we have about our world and address our own anxieties. Let’s do that. Like, I mean, really do that. We can’t move forward if we don’t find a way to remove the paralysis of fear that we have in ourselves. Not talking about it with our kids because we can’t solve it isn’t an excuse to ignore it or naively believe it will go away and not matter.
Second, we engage our kids in meaningful conversations, knowing that we might not have all the answers.
Third, we let our children guide the conversation with their questions. I think that this is the best way to make it customized to them, their development, their concerns.
Fourth, we remind them that we are all working together to be safe and to live in a way where we can all get along.
Fifth, we acknowledge that many of our problems stem from people responding badly to others and then decide to be empowered to respond differently than that. Many of our problems come from others not choosing to do right. Many of our problems can be blamed on someone—but, we are moving away from blaming. We are moving toward compassionately problem solving.
Sixth, listen to your children. Listen to their fears, reassure them, let them know they are loved and help them feel loved.
Seventh, we act on their questions and their suggestions. It isn’t enough to have a conversation. You need to act on ideas that they have and be open to putting together a plan to make a difference when they are ready.
Fred Rogers always had a way to make us think. The following words of wisdom are repeated and shared when bad things happen in the world. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
What we want to do, need to do, is to take it a step further and provide resources to create resilience and hope by empowering families to BECOME the helpers.
I know I don’t have all the answers. Goodness, as I was sitting a park talking to my boys about the shooting a nightclub and trying to answer their questions of “WHY?” . . . I sat with a feeling of, well, hopelessness.
But, Big Brother, who hadn’t said much, looked thoughtful and then said, “I don’t know if I will understand why. But, I know that we need to do something. We need to love people and figure out a better way.”
A Call to Action
Please join me in figuring out a better way . . . in developing a map to help talk with our kids about the “bad things” that happen. Please join me as we work to empower our families to become the helpers. We have been working towards providing resources to support parents for several months now. Join us as we work towards curating and creating the best material for parents to use “when bad things happen.”
Ways you can do that:
- Learn more about our Project: When Bad Things Happen
- Email Sheila with your thoughts and suggestions
- Share our message
The goal for the project “When Bad Things Happen” is to have tangible resources for families to use with their kids when bad things happen. These tangible resources will fill a need in our communities and prepare the way for families to know what to do when bad things happen, including how to help others. We need your help to make that happen!
When Bad Things Happen: Resources for Parents
Pennies of Time, with the input of partner organizations, is developing two free resources for families and community members to use “when bad things happen.”
With the donations from Giving Tuesday, two Free Resources will be developed and distributed: a free parent book, that provides language and examples of what to do when bad things happen, and a child book showing how a child can respond when a bad thing happens. These resources will kick off our efforts to support families to know how to respond when bad things happen and become the helpers in our communities.
Join the Movement to Raise Kind Kids!
- Let us know that you would like to participate in our kindness programs.
- Join us in our project When Bad Things Happen: what to say and do with your kids.
- Share your talents and skills as a volunteer for Pennies of Time.
- This week, complete an act of kindness with your kids. Need a suggestion? Here are 5 Easy Ways