Written by Donesa Walker, M.Ed. BCCS, owner of LearningRx and Brain Train Learning Solutions
What do you say to your children about what is happening to our country when you do not understand it yourself? How do you make sense of a world that has fallen off its rocker? In short, you don’t. These things that are happening now to our world seem very chaotic and make us feel adrift, but the thing that we anchor to is where we go.
Children tend to anchor in their families when the world around them is chaotic and unpredictable so they will look to you for answers and the truth is the best thing for them to know, but not the whole truth nor the details of it. I remember the morning of 9/11 when I settled in my second-period class to teach reading, and another teacher next door told me to turn on my TV, that history was happening. We watched in horror as the twin towers were struck, people leaped from windows to their deaths and the towers fell. My students all were silent and in tears, as the unthinkable happened before them and yet there was a sense of unreality. The immediate impact and my actions as the teacher in those moments would stay with my students forever and how I addressed this at my own home with my own young children would impact them in their perceptions of security. I did what every person has to do in these unthinkable times. We have to set our minds on the things of truth. I told each one who was feeling completely overwhelmed that they were safe.
Safety is the highest priority in the fight/flight mindset that we get into when the unthinkable overwhelms our senses. We struggle for normalcy and a sense of peace because we believe those bring safety. These times we are living in make this harder and harder to meet but the truth is you are safe.
When you lose someone you love, the sense of security and peace is shaken to the very core and what you anchor to in those moments is where the peace comes from in these moments. In 2015, I watched my mother struggle with stage 4 breast cancer and I saw a woman who never wavered or had her sense of peace disturbed. She was like a placid lake that showed no ripple despite the hurricane force winds and pelting of boulders. I heard her say then that peace isn’t the absence of storms in your life but rather the confidence in what/who you are anchored to during that storm.
What do you tell your children about the storms around you? You tell the truth and you tell them they are safe. One of my favorite songs says it best: “I’ve anchored in Jesus, the storms of life I’ll brave. I’ve anchored in Jesus; I’ll fear no wind or wave. I’ve anchored in Jesus for He has power to save. I’ve anchored in the Rock of Ages.” If you look back at history, people have managed in much bigger storms than we have in our lives right now. The biggest part of our issues today come from the maelstrom of information and how it is presented. You are the anchor for your children until you give them their sea legs so that they might anchor independently of you. It is up to you to show them the how.
Steps to giving your children a sense of security when you feel overwhelmed:
- Turn off the media! The maelstrom of information load will completely overwhelm your life if you allow it and will bring with it a wind of negativity that you do not need. Not only is too much media bad for your brain but it is also terrible for your emotions and physical body.
- Activity! Play games with your family. Do a craft. Find some coloring books and color or grab large sheets and make a tent. Pretend play and create a sense of normalcy in the midst of the chaos around you. This will bring a sense of peace and joy even when the situation feels dire. One of the things I was always impressed with as a teacher is the child’s buoyancy to the challenges of life. Bounce back with them. Let them bring some joy back to you. Go on a nature walk, a scavenger hunt. Have a scream fest where you go outside and scream as loud as you can.
- Traditions! Holidays look much different now and can be very hard as old traditions that brought a sense of security and joy are interrupted by loss and separation so start a new tradition. Put a puzzle together and then lay contact paper over it to make it into a placemat. Take something old and craft it into something new such as taking coffee filters and making them into angels to represent the ones you’ve lost.
- Politics! Embrace what is going on rather than avoiding it by taking the opportunity to use the teachable moments to discuss things like: what are politicians, who are our local ones, what is their purpose, how can we show our appreciation for them. I’ll never forget doing this with my little ones after 9/11. We discussed who the firefighters and the police officers were and their jobs. My children wanted to make them brownies. We baked and took them treats monthly for the rest of their childhood and both of my children are now in that field as they valued their sacrifice so much.
- Uncertainty! Teach them to find what is certain in their lives and move outward from that. This will give them the ability to earn their sea legs for the storms of life. Freedom isn’t free. This is an opportunity to show them the things that you value and how to appreciate those sacrifices for their freedom. Let them make cards, color pictures or make goody bags for soldiers who serve. Allow them to empathize with those who are segregated from community by making a small craft or item for those in nursing homes or for doctors/nurses who have given so much.
- Prioritize! Teach your child to recognize and prioritize people over things by giving something they value to another who is in need. Demonstrate the spirit of service by cooking a meal for someone in need and allowing them to help plan and prepare the meal or perhaps even shop for it if they are old enough. They can clean up the yard for someone else or volunteer time they have to others in need.
- You! Don’t forget the You. Take time for you. Prioritize time to feel. If you feel overwhelmed and need someone to turn to, contact a counselor, pastor or licensed therapist to talk. Get a massage to ease the stress, even if that means rolling your foot or back against a tennis ball or rolled up sock because money is tight. Teach your child how to massage your neck/shoulders and show them that it is good to give relief and that you value their touch.