Well...it finally happened...a day more than 9 years in the making (IFif you started counting at 9/11 and not before), but America finally got him.
Osama bin Laden is no more, and while many of us are breathing the ultimate sigh of relief, it is also raising quite a few questions in the minds of parents everywhere.
What is the best course of action here...how much info is too much?
How can we ease our children's fears without reopening old wounds?
What is the best way to communicate such events to my children?
Like every mother, I am at once relieved that my son will live in a world unpopulated by the kind of unadulterated evil that bin Laden represented - and yet terrified for what the future may bring.
I feel that although it is important to discuss certain world events with children, I also have concerns that we ensure that the information we disperse is age appropriate and delivered in a way that is conducive to their brain capacity. The goal is to inform - not overwhelm.
Of course, so much of our wellness as a family is related to our modes of communicating with one another. Some families are yellers, some are whisperers, some never discuss their "feelings" and in others, someone's always crying - too in touch with their feelings for they're own good.
Your toddler may communicate with tantrums, your ‘tween with eye rolls and your teen via text - and it is perhaps incumbent upon you, the almighty parent, to meet your children where they wish - and we must always do so with an eye towards effective, compassionate communication.
There are of course, many times in which the bones of communication must be strengthened, and discussing death, natural disasters, or other calamity is a time for parents to focus on their method of delivery as well as the words they choose and the non-verbal signals they send as well.
Here are my top 5 suggestions for discussing touchy topics with your kids and teens:
1. Scoop the news: Timing is of the essence here. It is really crucial that you address this week's news with your children before its discussed in depth at school or on the playground. Young children are notorious for getting details confused, especially with adult topics. Determine right now what aspects you wish to discuss with your kids, and begin developing your plan.
2. Body leveraging: It may seem a no brainer...but when you position your body lower than your child', it sends a few signals their way. You are not attempting to control the conversation, just impart information. Looking up to another person indicates their authority - not over you, but the conversation. Giving the child a bit of "power" in this circumstance helps to thwart fear, allowing them to focus on the words you are using, and gain a better understanding of the message. It also shows that you are truly listening...waiting for them to share their opinions, fears or concerns. You are focused on THEM - not your Blackberry...not the dishes....not the TV - only the conversation at hand.
3. Use their Name. Rinse, Lather and Repeat. Using their name repeatedly during the conversation helps build the bridge between you. Not only does the subconscious enjoy hearing the sound of one's name, it solidifies and deepens the connection you want. Especially if you sense their attention waning - use the sound of their name to draw them back to the conversation at hand.
4. Rules of Engagement: Of course, part of your goal here is to get your child to open up about their feelings. Easier said than done, I know. Be sure to ask open-ended questions, "How do you feel about the bad guy? What are you thinking when you see his picture? What do you know about what he did?" Try offering up your own feelings as well. "I feel so proud for our military families, how about you?"
Asking questions and getting your child talking is what makes this a discussion - NOT a lecture. There is nothing worse than a parental with hot air...droning on and on about who knows what. You were a kid once, surely you remember.
Engage them, get them to open up. You'll be so thankful you did.
5. Palms up: If you are a demonstrative speaker (like yours truly), you are waving those arms around, using your hands to jab and make points, and probably pacing as well. Use the body leveraging technique to stay still - and focus on placing your hands in a palm up gesture, never palms down.
Palms up, known as the Beggars Pose, is a body language move that signifies sincerity and compassion. Palms up is often seen as an aggressive move, and you run the risk of alienating your child. Use palms down to reiterate the fact that you are welcoming to their feelings and open for discussion on anything that concerns them.
As we move beyond this week - and this topic - there is unfortunately always a next time. Be prepared to discuss such events with your kids - from tot to teen. Get your plan in order, and make every month Family Wellness Month.