Dear Dr. Debbie,
I was already in a steady state of anxiety about sending my children to school – even masked and vaxed – but I try to keep an upbeat attitude around them. I am very conscientious about not having any news on for them to hear, whether in the car or at home. World news. National news. The price of gasoline. Climate change. Parents frantic about buying infant formula. War-weary refugees. Racially motivated violence and ongoing inequities. But wait, it gets worse. On May 24th there was yet another mass shooting, this time in an elementary school.
How is this the world we live in?
In the short-term, you are doing the important job of shielding your children from your feelings about situations and events beyond your control. Children count on their grown-ups to confidently and effectively take care of their needs, above all to keep them healthy and safe.
The News for Children
Depending on each child’s age and sensitivity, you can carefully choose from among news stories to share what might be relevant to them. Some news stories make their way to school bus stops and lunchrooms, so it’s better that your child gets your carefully crafted report before any other version. As happens again and again in your parenting role, you are acting as a trustworthy source of information. Since children are expertly tuned into parents’ emotions, do the work you need to do to ready yourself to be a well-composed reporter. This might include first sharing your feelings with other adults so that you can manage to put them aside in the presence of your children.
You can tell your children, as is appropriate, that a news story makes you sad or angry, but not by sobbing or screaming.
To reduce your anxiety, find ways to feel more in control – by participating in efforts to make things better, whether that’s organizing carpools to save on gas costs, volunteering to help with efforts to get infant formula to where it’s needed, or voicing your concerns about state and national legislation to your elected representatives.
Ease your feelings of helplessness by finding a way to actively address an important issue. Look for volunteer opportunities with organizations that are already working to solve the problems that shake your sense of security. You can get on the Volunteer Newsletter email list of Anne Arundel Community College to be notified of local projects you can assist with. This is not just for students of the college. Similarly, Volunteer Match is a national organization that can connect you to remote opportunities as well as to local opportunities to channel your passions toward making a positive difference.
There are complex causes to the problems of the world. Unless you are, or would like to be, directly involved in epidemiology, crime prevention / police-community relations, alternative transportation, the environment or other specific matters of importance, focus on your significant role as a parent to guide your children toward being the kind of adults you’d like to see more of.
Let your children know every day that you value them and will take care of them. Help them learn to care about others – foremost by your model of showing respect and kindness, even to people who are different from you. Take part in community events as a family, both to get to know your neighbors but also to have your children receive positive attention from caring adults outside the family. Find volunteer opportunities (see above) to participate in as a family.
Demonstrate honesty and fairness in family interactions and conflicts as well as in your relationships outside the family and in business dealings. This helps your children understand the ethical side of all human connections – what we do should always be for the best of everyone involved. As your children grow toward independence, help them to establish connections with individuals and groups who will also value and take care of them.
There seems to always be trouble in the world. Guide your children to join you in finding solutions.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.
Chesapeake Children’s Museum and community partners will present: Kids ‘n’ Kaboodle, the totally free fair for all the children of Annapolis, Saturday, June 4, 12-4 pm at the Weems-Whelan Memorial Athletic fields, 935 Spa Road. Overflow parking is available at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase Street.
Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.