The world is not a safe place. Just listen to the news: Shootings, drownings, accidents, disease, natural disasters… The list of possible tragedies is endless.
And yet, as parents, one of our core responsibilities it to launch our children. It’s our job to encourage our kids to explore and experience the world. But how can we do this when we can’t honestly guarantee their safety? How should we respond when our children are frightened by the very real dangers in the world?
We need to help our children develop effective coping strategies, but we also need to help them understand that they are not alone in their journey.
When tragedy strikes, whether it’s personal or related to a news event, children may feel very frightened. Here’s one way you can reassure your child without offering false promises.
I came up with this in response to the unanswerable “What if?” questions of an anxious young girl I was seeing in therapy. I couldn’t honestly tell her, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” Sometimes pictures can get through to kids in a way that all our adult words can't, so I pulled out a piece of paper and drew a small stick figure at the bottom. “This is you,” I told her. “Let’s talk about who’s in charge of keeping you safe.”
She said her parents, so I drew stick figures to represent them. Then she said her aunts, uncles, and grandparents, so I drew more stick figures above those. Then she said the police and firefighters, so I drew stick figures with hats. Then she said the military, so I drew stick figures with crew cuts. We worked our way up to the President–a stick figure with a flag. I couldn’t give this little girl a guarantee of safety, but I could leave her with an image of layer upon layer of adults, standing between her and danger.
Excerpted with permission from Kennedy-Moore & Lowenthal, Smart Parenting for Smart Kids (Jossey-Bass/Wiley).
With older children, I’ve talked about how life—even just getting out of bed in the morning—is an act of courage and faith. It takes courage to face what’s ahead of us, knowing that there are no guarantees. And it takes faith to keep going: faith that we can get through hard times with the help of those who love us, and faith that, although it might not be immediately apparent, overall life is filled with more joy than suffering, more hope than fear, more love than hate.
Talking with Children About the Connecticut School Shooting
© Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD. Google+
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, is an author and clinical psychologist in Princeton, NJ (lic. #35SI00425400). She frequently speaks at schools and conferences about parenting and children’s social and emotional development. www.EileenKennedyMoore.com
Check out Dr. Kennedy-Moore’s books about Helping Children Get Along™:
-- Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child's True Potential || Chapters include: Tempering Perfectionism; Building Connection; Developing Motivation; Finding Joy.
-- The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends || Chapters include: The Shy Child; The Little Adult; The Short-Fused Child; The Different Drummer.
-- What About Me? 12 Ways To Get Your Parents' Attention Without Hitting Your Sister
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photo credit: Popofatticus Rob http://www.flickr.com/photos/barretthall/444874447/