In unsafe times kids need to feel safe

I’m worried about our kids; they’re really afraid right now. I know, I know — many of us are really afraid but we’re grown ups and theoretically we’ve got more coping mechanisms. Our kids, though, especially the young ones, are counting on us to be their coping mechanisms.

While our kids are growing into the full people that they will someday be they rely on the adults in their lives to fill in the empty spaces. We keep them fed and clothed and we help them process the world around them.

Right now, whatever side you’re on politically, I think you’d have to agree that the world is pretty messy. And our kids are scared.

Even if you don’t talk politics in your house your children are not blind to what’s going on. It’s all over the media, on the front page of magazines in the check out line, humming from the parents on park benches while the kids swarm the climbers.  If they go to school then they are talking about it there. (On the playground, in the lunchroom and for the older children, in class.) Some of them are repeating things they hear their parents say and some of them are repeating things they see the talking heads on TV say. Children who I know have felt threatened by the words of their peers. Children who have not been targets report that they’re worried for loved ones.

And children feel divided, too. I’ve talked to a number of kids and teens who have needed to process learning that someone they care about voted for the other side (whatever that side might be) and how that feels. There are arguments happening at lockers and in class and on the bus.

We are in a tough place. Many of us want to raise children who are socially aware and active. We want to take them to events and marches and protests and I think that’s great but we have to remember what they need most right now (what we all need most right now) is hope. How are you giving that to them?

Look at this video below. This is a father and his son at an event honoring the people who lost their lives in the Paris terror attack that occurred November 13, 2015. Go ahead and watch it (it’s short).

This little boy is so afraid and his father gives him hope. No, flowers don’t protect us from guns but we protect each other. We are not alone. This is what our children need to hear. Look at that little boy’s face and the calm that comes over him. It’s powerful, isn’t it?

We need to be thoughtful about how we’re instilling optimism in our children as we move through these tumultuous times. We need to build in opportunities to be hopeful (even when we feel hopeless). We can do this by showing our children the good things that are coming out of this and there is good if we look for it. We can also do it by making sure that we don’t just focus on the conflicts in history; we’ve made progress, too. I know many of us fear we’re sliding backwards but again, for our kids, we need to show them the ways that we’ve moved forward.

And if this inspires us to stay on the phones (and sign the postcards and show up at the events) for a while longer, that’s not a bad thing either.

We also need to remind the other adults in our children’s lives — particularly their educators and other leaders — to speak out against fear and expressly speak to their safety. Some leaders shy away from this for fear of getting political but fear does not have politics and anxious children have trouble learning. They need us to be strong for them and to be willing to wade into the muck to promise them that whatever happens, we are committed to their safety.

That’s a message every child needs to hear.

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