Some mornings it’s just too hard to turn on the news. Fighting my need to learn what is going on in the world is an equally powerful force wishing to protect myself from knowing. Most days it feels as if there is an all-out assault on our beliefs, our values, our families. I battle daily with the forces of needing to know and not wanting to know. Some days I am brave and mighty and strong, and face reality head on. Other days, I admit, I choose to do the ostrich thing, stick my head in the sand and hide from it all, at least for a little while.
If I, as a strong, educated and self-sufficient woman am overwhelmed at times with the reality of the world we live in, imagine how our children must feel. They hear snippets of newscasts, conversations, and even commercials about school shootings, terrorist actions, and fallen political leaders. Their limited understanding of the world makes it even harder for them to process these images and messages, and weigh them against the reality of equal, if not greater, good. As an adult, I can choose when, where, and how much “reality” I let in, but children have no such control. The TV is on in the kitchen, the radio is on in the car, the conversations are heard at the park.
So, in this time of overload, how do we help our children understand the realities of the world while still protecting their sense of innocence and purity of spirit?
1) Limit your own exposure. Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a 24 hour “news” cycle. Most of what is found on any cable “news” show is opinion, speculation, and conjecture. And much of it is intended to be inciting for the purpose of ratings. Choose your news sources carefully, and mindfully separate fact from opinion. Once your key questions are answered, turn it off and move on. Listen to music, listen to the birds chirping, listen to your child read you a story.
2) “Find the Helpers.” There is a classic story told by Fred Rogers of his mother telling him that whenever there is a tragedy or crisis, we should always look for the helpers. There are always helpers. By finding the helpers, we are teaching our children, and ourselves, to realize that there are SOOOO many more loving, kind, generous people in the world than there are lost souls. Focusing on the helpers not only highlights the resiliency of the human spirit but inspires children to find ways to become helpers as well. It instills a sense of connection and community that is life-changing.
3) Answer their questions at an age-appropriate level. It is perfectly normal for children, upon hearing of an upsetting event on the television, to want to know the who, what and whens. But realize that what children are really asking is, “Am I safe? Are we ok?” Respect the questions, answer without over-sharing unnecessary details, and reaffirm that things in his or her life are ok.
4) Take action. Anxiety often stems from a sense of helplessness. By teaching children to take purposeful action, be it praying, making cards, raising funds, or volunteering, we are teaching them that we are able to promote change and compassion in our communities and in our world.
5) Maintain a Balanced Perspective. I, for one, believe strongly in the goodness of people. While I am not naïve to the challenges our children face today, I am also not convinced at all that the world is a terrible or failing place. I choose to find the kindness, compassion, activism, and joy around me, even if some days I must look harder than others. What a gift this would be to share with the children in our lives.