Homeschooling, Studying, Zooming, Building, Crafting, Drawing, and er…Complaining? Yes, unfortunately all the homeschooling has turned kids into little monsters. Gasp! What?!
But never fear! Your children will be all right. Unless your child was originally home-schooled, there was a lot of adjustment since school campuses had to close. In the beginning, my friends and I laughed, joked, and then intermittently cried over all the math lessons, the essays, and the assignments that had to be turned in on time or we’ll get an email from the teacher. I’ve always had a deep respect for educators, but having to teach children that are not of their blood for seven hours straight, five days a week is definitely not the easiest job in the world.
As a parent, I’ve learned the hard way that kids are actually more resilient than adults. And they are quite forgiving. You can get mad at them, yell at them, even ground them. But a couple hours later, everything is forgotten and forgiven. That is why, as a parent, it’s our sole duty to protect our children and teach them to do the right thing so that when they become adults, they will hopefully learn from all the life lessons that we taught them.
Once again, as I started writing this a week ago, I was going to shed some insights and tips on kids ending the school year and going into an uncertain summer. But as we were faced with the tragic results of police brutality and the injustice faced by people of color – in particular the black community – I wanted to share something that we can do to help our children. Whether you are a parent or not, you should realize that everything starts at childhood. Children are not inherently evil. They do not inherently know that one person’s color of skin should be treated differently than another color. Evil. Cruelty. Shame. Those are just a few injustices that almost everyone faces at one time in their lives. And as children, they learn from what is around them, whether it’s through their parents and family members, at school, on television, or what they see on social media and video games. I am by no means a professional psychiatrist, but I can speak frankly as a mother, an educator, and as a minority.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela
How true are those words spoken by Nelson Mandela all those years ago. But sometimes as parents, we forget that what we say or do directly affects our children. They see what’s around them. They hear what’s around them. And they react to what is shown them. Even if we are most careful to hide certain acts and thoughts from them, children will inevitably pick something up. Even if we do not mean to shame someone or put someone down, our children will pick up those innuendos. And eventually, if we don’t let our children know that what we did was wrong and try to make a change, then they will think it’s okay. If mommy and daddy did it, it must be okay to do it. If my friend did it, then it must be okay to do it. If my teacher did it, it must be okay to do it. It’s tough being a kid, and because they are so innocent and naive, their little sponge minds can pick up on almost anything they see and hear.
So let’s go back to the resiliency I mentioned. Yes, kids are pretty resilient and tenacious. They fall, they get up, and they move on. And they do so because it’s what they know inside them. They haven’t yet learned that it’s scary to fall or that it’s painful to have a scraped knee. Pain might be an instinctual reaction, but fear is usually learned and taught. So let’s take their most progressive years of learning and teach them only good things. Teach them about compassion. Love. And common respect. Because only through the eyes of compassion and respect will be bring meaningful change.
If you need some help in how to guide your kids on coping with tragedy and trauma, below are some outlines from the Orange County Department of Education.
Not everyone reacts the same way in times of crisis. Some children may become more quiet or withdrawn, while others may become irritable or act out. These are all normal reactions, and adults need to respond in a calm and caring way. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network says how children experience traumatic events and show their distress will depend largely on their age and level of development.
Take time to connect.
Sometimes adults can become preoccupied with disturbing events and managing their own responses. They can forget that children are aware of what’s happening. Take a moment to check in with your child and let them know they can talk to you and ask questions.
Limit their exposure.
As our friends at CHOC Children’s have noted, parents should consider the proximity of an event and what information a child truly needs to know. Be aware of televisions that are on and showing news coverage in common areas. Talk about the child’s feelings and concerns, provide reassurance, and offer age-appropriate information — more on that in a moment — to help clarify misunderstandings and reduce fear. We can also teach children to use their own coping skills, such as talking to a trusted adult or doing activities like playing with friends, reading, praying, singing, dancing or creating art.
In time of crisis, many of us become the caretakers of those who are most affected. These selfless acts of kindness are greatly appreciated, but adults must also remember to take care of themselves. Promoting self-care will ensure you do not burn out or experience higher levels of compassion fatigue, allowing you to care for others for a longer period of time with greater efficiency.
Just as individuals may have varying responses in times of tragedy, they will also have different timeframes for healing. Try your best to be patient with those you’re caring for, as they may have a shorter or longer response time to the crisis.
Make sure to follow up.
Check in periodically to make sure children are continuing to cope in healthy ways. If additional support is needed, reach out to a school counselor or clinician. The majority of schools have counselors who can meet with students to check in, help them process what they are experiencing and teach them about healthy coping strategies. If you would prefer seeking services outside of school, most medical insurances offer coverage.
Keep explanations appropriate.
Meanwhile, the National Association of School Psychologists offers these suggestions for keeping explanations of school-based violence developmentally appropriate:
Early elementary school students need brief, simple information that is balanced with reassurances that their schools and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety that remind children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills being practiced so they are prepared if somethings happens.
Upper elementary and early middle school students will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools and provide concrete examples.
Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines — for example, not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, and reporting threats made by students or community members — communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
In the end, you are the parent or caregiver. You know your child best. But right now, most kids will see and hear about the recent events. They already know about the pandemic crisis so to add their fears and doubts about what they might see on television or hear from their family and friends could be quite traumatizing and confusing.
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