Our country is facing a huge divide and our kids are watching us for how to react. They need us now more than ever, especially our tweens and teens! When parenting our little children who are afraid we offer comfort. We offer a hug or we move over in bed to make room for a little body to sleep close during a thunderstorm. We offer nightlights and step stools.
But most importantly, we offer the encouraging words, “You are OK”.
Our big kids are afraid right now. I’m afraid! Every morning I fire up my computer or turn on the news and I am greeted with new tragedies, new atrocities, and new horrors. And even scarier to me is that my kids are old enough to understand. They are old enough to know these are real dangers. They are old enough to know that the world is hurting. They are old enough to see that the people they trust the most to offer comfort are afraid too.
So what are we parents suppose to do?
In the wake of changes and fears that are filling every crevice of our lives, I encourage you to keep parenting!
In my twenty-five years as a Family Therapist, I know that kids need two things:
They need to feel loved.
They need to feel safe.
They need to know that the people who love them will keep them safe. That’s really it.
Keeping kids safe is crazy complicated! With babies and toddlers, safety is exhausting and immediate and an every minute of the day kind of thing. But it gets harder as they grow up. As they go out into the world on their own more and more often, keeping them safe gets more complicated. But they need to feel safe more than ever as they grow. Developmentally, they need to push the boundaries so they know the boundary is there. They need to tests the rules to be sure the rules are not going to budge.
So what are we parents suppose to do as the boundaries and rules seem to be changing?
We love them and keep them safe!
The hardest part of keeping them safe is that as they grow older they have to learn to keep themselves safe and we have to equip them to do that! How can we keep these kids safe when they fight us every step of the way? They have to set their own limits, set their own values, and set their own rules. Kids need to believe that even though parents set the limits right now, they have power! Not just the power to drive us crazy, or test every single limit!
But they have real power; power to make decisions and power to make the right decisions.
Here is the secret formula for lovingly keeping our older kids safe as we all face a scary time in our country.
Smile and laugh everyday! Seems simple. I don’t know about you but some days it feels like an overwhelming task to just not be angry. I have to turn off the computer or put my cell phone away. Think about a smile or a good laugh to be the warm embrace we lovingly gave our toddlers during a thunderstorm or scary movie. Obviously, a hug is great too if today is the day they are accepting human contact! If today isn’t the day, know that the ability to find the smile and laughter, in spite of the adversity, is the reassurance they need that they are going to be “OK”.
Encourage kids to find their give back! Start with just buying a product that gives back to a cause. Shop on line and buy stuff? Seriously? Yes!! It’s a great start in teaching our kids that their voice does matter! They choose how they spend their money. They choose which cause. They begin to see that their choices impact a certain group. That gives them control. And keeping kids safe requires control. Kids can feel like they have some control in a very out of control time, to make the impact they want to make. Here are three of my kid’s favorites at the moment, Lokai, Ivory Ella, Toms.
Shine a flashlight
Give your kids every chance to volunteer. Sign up for events, donate items to charity, organize a drive, host a dinner, give your time and energy. When our little kids were afraid of the monster in the basement, we gave them tools to deal. Maybe a stool to reach the light switch or a flashlight that hung at the top of the stairs to take down to the dark dungeon of the basement. We gave them things to do to cope with their fears. Sharing their time and their energy with others is a tool to better cope with their fears now.
My middle daughter loves Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Encourage your kids to Be. Be who they are supposed to be. The change comes from artists, teachers, coaches, accountants, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, or whatever else they might be!! There is safety in finding our adult path that makes us happy and allows us to be who we are supposed to be. Whatever profession your kid grows up to be matters much less than who they who they grow up to be as a person! Guide them along this path! The journey is what is important. Let them explore interests and develop typical behaviors and thoughts. They may be less political than you feel at the moment. They may disagree with you completely; they may have simplistic views at the moment, all of that is OK too.
In this time of fear, let’s keep our children safe by giving them the tools they need to face any fears as they grow older. Let’s show them they have a voice that needs to be heard (whatever crazy ideas they may have), and power to control how they use their time and energy. We are all going to be OK. I hope…
Joy Hartman is passionate about empowering teens to become strong, confident adults! She works with teens of all ages as a family therapist in Wisconsin and has the unique experience of raising three moody, eye-rolling teenagers of her own. For more fun and support on this crazy roller coaster ride of parenting teenagers, join Joy and hundreds of other parents at: Joyhartman.com or Facebook