12 Ways to Raise Joyful Children When the Headlines Are Full of Fear
by Lorna Ann Knox
“Being a parent is wonderful, I wouldn’t change it for the world.” Parenting is indeed full of wonder and rewards that can’t be found anywhere else, and in a public opinion poll, 96 percent of the respondents agreed with that statement.* Most parents, even in these uncertain times, wouldn’t give up their responsibilities for less complicated lives. But more than two-thirds of parents who responded to the same poll felt that their parenting job is a lot harder now than it was for their parents.
Almost all parents responded that they worry about negative influences on their children from many outside sources. That concern is so constant and powerful that it overrides other issues, including worries about money or lack of family time. This concern is probably not surprising if you are parent or spend time with parents. It certainly matches my experience, and that of families I spend time with. We are all trying to protect our children and prepare them for the world in a variety of ways. But there is a constant underlying fear that such efforts are inadequate.
Today’s headlines are frightening. Terrorism, war, unemployment, earthquakes, poverty, crime, disease—it seems as if every day brings a new crisis, a new cause for concern, and another reason to fear for the future. The challenge of living with joy and courage when darkness and fear are pressing in from all sides is daunting for almost any adult, especially those who have children.
The daily routines of family life, school, extracurricular activities, and friendships are enough to keep every family occupied and challenged: social skills to learn, academic goals to reach, important values and moral lessons to transmit, and so little time before each child has to become independent and go “out there” where those scary headlines are very real. The pressure on parents can be intense. There is a sense of urgency to get it all done and do it right, to make sure our children survive these difficult times and to prepare them to survive as adults in difficult times to come, when we are not with them.
If you are anything like me and like the parents I know, you hope your children will not merely survive difficult times, but experience a life of joy, optimism, inner contentment, and love for others, and that they are able to help the next generation experience the same. You probably also worry about your ability to give them what they need to make such an experience happen.
The scary news comes from all directions simultaneously. Whether your children are infants, school age, or grown, issues and current events make you concerned for their safety and their future. In any given week, headlines that affect families with children are too many to count. There is no way to deal with each of them directly, but all present one problem we must deal with—fear.
The scary news headlines feed our fears—fear for our children’s safety; for their mental, emotional, and physical health; and for their future. We fear for the state of our schools, for our country, and for the world; and we fear for our own ability to parent in such uncertainty.
Fear can shape our decisions and become the driving force in our lives. The choices we make as parents and the directions our fears take us affect our whole family, whether or not we are aware of it. We can’t ignore the headlines and the issues that confront the world; we can’t pretend they don’t affect our children. But many parents share the same questions: How do I overcome my own anxiety and give my children what they need? Is it possible to live joyfully with everything that is going on in the world today? How can I help my children to be joyful and positive, to live with more love than with more fear?
Yes, it is possible for our children to be joyful and positive in a world full of scary news. However, it is not going to happen without conscious and persistent effort. Presented in this book are twelve specific ways to teach children how to live with joyful appreciation and gain inner strength while growing up in a world full of frightening events and media messages that promote anxiety and fear.
What I propose is really easier than you may think. Teaching children to make decisions based on love instead of on fear is the natural inclination of the heart. Helping them to choose true friends, to act with love for others, and to gain strength and wisdom from experience are goals all parents have expressed in one form or another.
If you are looking for guidance and concrete ways to decrease fear while you increase your family’s experience of love, beauty, peace, and joyful appreciation of each day, you will find help within these pages. Every chapter has practical suggestions and advice for leading your family away from fear and toward light and love in all areas of their lives.
Teaching children that scary news is a part of our everyday existence and can be dealt with while still holding onto joy can be done systematically and lovingly. Raising children in this way requires the same clarity and awareness we use to teach them other important skills. Think of parents teaching about the dangers of fast-moving cars. In my city neighborhood I’ve watched moms and dads deal with the traffic issue in a predictable pattern. First they try to make their children understand that cars share their space and present a danger. Then they place themselves between their children and the street during outside playtime until they feel fairly confident the children will not run into traffic. Years of training and practice crossings occur before parents allow children solo trips across the street, and even then diligent parents are ever watchful. An entirely new phase of learning takes place when as teenagers, children learn to drive and take on the responsibility of watching out for youngsters on the street.
Part One chapters focus on how to create an environment that protects and nurtures children during the vulnerable years of early childhood. Topics cover how to:
- Understand how much negative and harmful emotional influences permeate daily life
- Shield children from the harsher realities of life during their vulnerable developing years
- Create a home that is a haven of peace and safety where joy and optimism can thrive
- Choose true friends who share strength, courage, and optimism
- Comfort ourselves and others when needed
Part Two chapters cover the skills needed to deal with negative influences while maintaining confidence and a positive attitude. Topics cover how to:
- Decide when to take action and defend against a threat
- Balance intellectual assessment with inner guidance
- Live in the present without debilitating worry for the future or regret for the past
- See and appreciate the goodness and beauty that exists around us
- Act with love for others when faced with fear or helplessness
- Nurture a spiritual identity
- Gain strength and wisdom from every experience
These topics are not necessarily steps to take in the order presented. However, there is a logical progression from one step to the next. As you consciously take action in these areas, you will create a life for your family that is joyful and positive. You also take control of negative forces instead of letting them control you. Your children will learn a great deal just from your example and from the environment you create with your efforts, but there are also specific skills you can teach children to prepare them for adult life in an uncertain world.
You may feel confident that you are already using many of these ideas or you may feel you need to work harder on others. You may not need to dramatically change what you are doing now; just raise awareness of your goals and what you are up against. These ideas may be familiar, but have existed only as vague hopes and disjointed pieces that come together by chance instead of by design. All of the topics are on a continuum that reaches far into adulthood; growth and learning doesn’t stop at a particular age. As children reach new developmental milestones, their ability to understand and take action in each of these areas will change, as will your opportunities to teach them. These chapters will help you clarify how to make joy and beauty a more tangible part of your life with your children, and how to guide them into adulthood with more confidence and hope.
How do you start? Your loving attention is the most important piece of the entire picture. No matter the age of your children or the circumstances, a reliable, loving, secure relationship with parents and other adults has proven to be the most influential factor in helping children feel safe and confident when faced with situations that provoke anxiety or fear. My hope is that everything in this book will reinforce that fact and reassure you it is true.
The suggestions in the following chapters will do more for children than just minimize the damage done by frightening world events. We can give our children the skills to cope with the scary news and have a life filled with light, hope, joy, and appreciation.
* State Farm Insurance and Family Friendly Programming Forum, 2002. Public Agenda Online, www.publicagenda.org