Preparing Children for a Scary World
I get in my car to drive across town, turning on the radio to check for a traffic report as I pull onto the freeway. The local news comes over the airwaves and within five minutes I learn that a man was arrested for placing a hidden camera in a public restroom; a police officer was accused of beating a suspect; a child had been kidnapped; and an unidentified body had been found. National stories to come would cover terrorism and the latest war news.
I don't want to listen to any more of the same while waiting for a traffic report, so I flip off the radio in resignation. Grateful for the peace, I drive in silence and remind myself again to keep the radio off, especially if my children are in the car with me. The headlines I find disturbing and depressing would be quite confusing and scary for young children to hear.
Radio is only one of many sources of scary news in our media rich environment. And the number of ways scary news can find to invade our personal lives is growing steadily. Thanks to satellites, the internet and other technology, horrors from around the world are thrust upon our families in emotion-laden, living color. "Bad news travels fast" is an absurd understatement in today's world.
As yesterday's frightening headlines fade, new ones take their place. The sickening news of Russian schoolchildren being murdered and hostages being executed on camera affects all of us. Parents have the additional emotional burden of how exposure to such violence and cruelty affects their children. We naturally want to shield them from such harsh realities, but then we worry that too much protection may result in our children being unprepared to cope with the real world. Witnessing someone steal from a store was a shock for my children, but they now understand that such things really happen. The lesson learned was valuable, so was it really a terrible thing that they saw it?
The solution to preparing children is not pumping young hearts and minds full of information about all the dangers of the world, hoping to arm them against what lies ahead. Knowing people are capable of extreme cruelty won't help children to deal with that cruelty, it will shut down their hearts with fear. Solutions can be found in the two most powerful tools parents have: their loving presence in the lives of their children and their own inner guidance, or intuition.
A parent's dependable presence will keep fear at bay and give children armor against harmful realities that can wound vulnerable young hearts and minds. After experiencing an earthquake, my children repeatedly told me that they would have been even more scared if we hadn't been together. Research reveals that during circumstances that provoke anxiety, the presence of a trusted adult can measurably reduce the normal stress response. If your child learns of a deadly hurricane that is destroying homes and threatening lives, just being with him will change his emotional reaction. Parents can be reassured that being with their children will naturally create a more secure environment which will help them build emotional strength gradually.
Moreover, if we make sure to share the beauty that life offers while we are with them, our children will experience what is right and good about the world. Their world-view will include more than the darkness people are capable of and they will know the reality of love. This inner experience will give them more strength than all the information we could give.
Parent's intuition is a more valuable resource than intellectual knowledge of facts. Information is changing all the time, but we can learn to use inner guidance as a dependable compass for all our decisions and teach our children to do the same. If parents spend time with their children and pay attention, their intuition will help reveal what their children need and what they can cope with. We will be able to see when they are ready for more information, when fear takes over and how best to provide comfort. When we trust our intuition we are more likely to consider what's happening behind the facts and make decisions based on love, instead of fear. As our children watch and learn from us, they too will use their inner guidance to help them face whatever difficult circumstances life gives them.
If our children are surrounded by love and beauty, if they experience the comfort of our loving presence, if they are protected from emotional burdens too heavy to carry, and learn to listen to the voice of their hearts, then they will have the inner resources to cope with the scary headlines of today and tomorrow.