Learning to apologize

bullying_Arvind Balaraman_freedigitalphotosJoel and Andrew, 4-year old friends, were playing with Lego when suddenly, Andrew howled, “I was just going to use that—it’s mine!”

Joel had snatched one of the pieces Andrew had in his pile beside him. When Andrew protested, Joel knocked down his building and Andrew began to cry. Joel looked at his mother wide-eyed.

What To Do?

“Oh, no,” thought Joel’s mother. Normally, he was not a selfish boy, but lately he’d done some very unkind things. What should she do this time – demand that he immediately tell Andrew he is sorry, make him have a time-out in his room, take away his Lego set for a week, tell him he couldn’t have anyone over to play until he could manage better?

On other occasions, she had tried one or more of these options but unhappy situations were still occurring. Besides, she was realizing that a parroted, “I’m sorry,” was just that – saying the words with no feeling behind them. When she had made him go to his room, there was usually a fight with Joel in tears, yelling and acting as though he were the victim. When he had to put a toy or game away for a period of time, it didn’t bother him very much because he would start playing with another toy and seem to forget about the stored one.

What could make a difference, make him want to change his behavior? Make him feel truly sorry when he had been unkind to someone?

Sincere and compassionate

How does a child get to the point of sincerely apologizing – in other words, with feeling and compassion?

Joel’s mother might begin by saying, “I know that Andrew is your friend and you like to play with him. When you take something he’s using and knock down his building, he feels bad and doesn’t want to play with you anymore.”

She could remind Joel, “Remember when you and Sue were playing and she wouldn’t let you have a turn? You felt picked on and angry”. Mother comforted and talked with him; he had stayed angry with Sue and called her “mean.”

She could ask him, “Is that how you want your friend to feel about you?” Joel would be better able to feel compassion when connecting Andrew’s feelings with ones he has experienced; he could be sensitive to the way he made Andrew feel. This will make his words, “I’m sorry,” much more healing for Andrew and for Joel himself.

Remorse and repair

Mother’s help in realizing another person’s bad feeling or hurt, and knowing that he caused it, will also lead the way to a feeling of remorse on Joel’s part. He will wish he hadn’t been so unkind. He will wish that Andrew wasn’t so angry with him and would still be his friend.

He will want to do something to make things better. He will also like the approval he gets from his mother and other adults when he does the kind thing, instead of causing disappointment and anger.

This can open the way for Mother to help him think about what he might do to repair what he has caused. In this case, it might be to gather the pieces of Lego that fell and, if Andrew wishes, help him re-build his building.

Sometimes repairing might mean doing some other act of kindness – drawing an “I’m sorry” picture, getting a tissue for a crying playmate, getting tape to repair something that was torn, etc.

Doing something kind will help restore Joel’s good feelings about himself instead of getting stuck in the misery of being the “bad guy.” He will feel better when he can sympathize with others and help them feel better, too.

The power to choose

Each time Joel is helped to realize how his actions have affected someone else or have turned a pleasant time into an unhappy one, he is forming convictions of what he wants for himself and how he wants to be thought of.

Does he want to be a bully who snatches whatever he wants, who destroys other people’s things, who spoils a nice time with a friend by his unkind behavior?

Or does he choose not to do those things he knows will hurt his playmate and end a fun playtime?

He will need help from the adults around him to think about what kind of boy he wants to be and to realize that only he can make that choice for himself. Four- and 5-year-olds are beginning to struggle with their developing consciences and the increasing capacity to empathize with others’ feelings.

They feel better when they learn their mistakes can be corrected, and then they are able to move on.

Image courtesy of Arvind-Balaraman_freedigitalphotos

How young children learn to protect themselves

Every day brings new reports of adults in some position of responsibility who take advantage of the trust that children place in them.

All of us have to worry about our children’s safety, and it’s easy to wonder what we should be doing to safeguard them from predators.

Parents of school-age children can talk about the importance of speaking up whenever anything feels uncomfortable. Parents of adolescents can talk even more directly with them about sexual assualt.

However, dealing with the issue of self-protection with preschool children is very different.

We want to caution parents against scaring or confusing very young children with lectures about not speaking to strangers, or protecting themselves against improper advances from anyone other than Mommy, Daddy or grandparents.

These messages can be utterly confusing to little children. It can be scary and upsetting, and can cause them to overreact in many ways.

For instance, they can become afraid of going to sleep, of the dark, of speaking to anyone. They can become overly excited and engage in mutual sexual play; or pretend to go looking for imaginary molesters, which shows that they are acting out what they are trying to understand.

Needing to protect oneself is a big responsibility that young children cannot possibly take on by themselves. We must be with them at all times, or place them in the care of family members or someone who has been checked out thoroughly and found to be completely trustworthy.

But there are things parents can do to help young children resist the advances of people who want to take advantage of them – though children need a long time to achieve mastery of the care and protection of their bodies.

They learn these skills by observing the things we parents do every day.

For example, they observe how we behave with strangers, who we talk to and who we avoid.

A young child goes from being totally cared for by his parents to wanting to do things for himself: feeding, washing, toileting, and dressing himself. And parents welcome this evidence that he is growing up and wants privacy and control over his own body.

Here is what Barbara Streeter, Education Director of the Hanna Perkins School, says about helping children protect themselves:

“What protects a child best is a sense of self-worth, an ability to know when he is being treated disrespectfully, and a sense that he has the right and ability to defend himself.”

To help a child develop those attributes and abilities, Streeter offers the following thoughts:

  • Always treat the child with respect, physically and emotionally.
  • Listen to and observe what he likes/dislikes and respond accordingly.
  • Protect her from intrusions of other adults – such as unwanted kisses, hugs, tickles, jokes, teases, insensitive doctors, salesmen, etc.
  • Support a child’s “no” to others when spoken or communicated non-verbally.
  • Assist a child in finding ways to defend himself when playmates and siblings are unkind in any way.
  • Show respect for – and support – a child’s need for privacy and control over what gets done to his body (eating, toileting, dressing, administering medications, etc.).
  • Avoid activities that make a child feel helpless (for example, adults overpowering a child by showing off their physical strength or engaging in excessive tickling).
  • Assist children in developing respect for “personal space”.
  • Carefully assess any person a child is being left with, and seriously consider any doubts you or the child might have.
  • Listen to what children have to say; let them know that we don’t automatically assume people in authority are right and they are wrong.

When children learn how to protect themselves, it’s not through our lectures or admonitions, but by observing the way their parents respect them and take care of them.

It’s a big job, but no one ever said being a parent was easy. We salute you and wish you well in doing that big job.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking time to learn from a student with autism

My student Sammy (not his real name) began looking up briefly from his desk in the classroom. At first these movements appeared to serve the purpose of relieving neck strain or perhaps eye strain from looking down at his table work. But I soon realized that he was catching quick looks at the clock on the wall.

I pointed to the clock and asked him, “Clock?” which prompted a longer gaze at the classroom fixture. I asked again, “Do you see the clock?” He replied “Yes” and then went back to his work.

While he worked, I fetched our teaching clock from the classroom cupboard and brought it to Sammy’s desk. It was a large clock with visible gears, and hands that move in relation with each other. He began experimenting with the clock, then handing it to me and asking me to make it display certain times. “Nine o’clock?” “Twelve o’clock?” “Five o’clock?” He became more and more intrigued with the idea that I could make it show any time he wanted, so I handed the controls over to him.

After a short time, Sammy looked up, asking “Math? Math?” I assumed he was ready to move on to the addition work we had been doing, but I was wrong. He got up from his chair and sought out a specific set of 12 blocks, featuring animals of sequential heights. A tiny ladybug is shown on the block labeled as 1, a tall giraffe is on the block labeled as 12, and other animals are shown in their relative heights on each of the blocks in between. We have used these blocks in the past to work on sequencing numbers, heights and lengths, but that is not what Sammy had in mind.

He began placing the blocks on the table in a manner that looked like a clock face, but he got discouraged after the sixth block. “Circle? Circle?” He put paper and a marker on the table in front of me and asked again, “Circle?”

I understood where this was going; I drew a large circle and handed it to Sammy with the marker. He wrote each of the clock-face numbers around the circle and then positioned the twelve animal blocks accordingly.

As he did this, Sammy sang and hummed quietly to himself. So I took the activity in a different direction by singing 12 consecutive tones of a major scale while bouncing my finger up the gradated blocks. He followed my lead and we played this way for several minutes.

Sammy then jumped up from his seat, saying “Ruler? Ruler?” He found the ruler and bounced his finger up and down the 12 inches, singing tones of a major scale. Watching this, I challenged myself to come up with a related activity to introduce the next day. I decided to bring in a calendar so we could connect the 12 inches with the 12 months of the year. The experience made me realize that several things in our lives come in sets of 12, or dozens, such as eggs, roses, and doughnuts.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Other than the fact that Sammy was born in 2012, his mother and I are not certain what significance the number 12 has to Sammy. It remains a mystery, but by being patient, curious and genuinely fond of Sammy, I was able to experience an alternative perspective, and the two of us were able to enjoy learning together.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.

 

A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers’ seasonal writings in one location

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, but all the excitement and traditions of the season can create stress in young children that grownups, in their own enthusiasm, can easily overlook.

Here is a collection of previously published articles by the Hanna Perkins Grandmothers that may help you see the holidays as they really look through a child’s eyes – so you can create the best kind of memories for the young people in your life.

  • The Santa Question This is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually. The Tooth Fairy No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a ... Read more
  • Keeping holidays focused on the children It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up. The ... Read more
  • Handling holiday disappointments Grumpy Ballerina“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams over the PA system in Walmart – and as we pile gifts in our shopping cart we halfway believe it. The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and ... Read more
  • The spirit of giving: How children’s gifts are recieved It was Christmas morning. As the family sat around the little tree, under which was a modest pile of wrapped gifts, Nina could not contain herself. She ran to the tree, pulled her gifts away from the others and distributed them; one for ... Read more
  • How little ones learn to love giving We Grandmothers are certainly aware that today’s families live in times of “Hurry Up” – that mothers and fathers both work and have to deal with malls filled with gifts of every shape and color. We recognize time is a precious commodity, so ... Read more
  • Excitement vs. Fun In most circles excitement is a positive word – often considered synonymous with fun. A movie, a television program, even an activity for young children, is praised for being exciting. Using the common definition, the opposite of exciting is boring, and boring is ... Read more
  • A holiday wish: Simple delight in your children What quality would we Grandmothers most ardently wish for you parents of young children in this final, bustling season of the year? Well OK, you didn’t ask, but we’re going to tell you anyway. Not patience, not insight, not mediation skills, not tolerance for ... Read more

Parenting tips on overly competitive behavior

As I love to watch non-professional sports, I have been a regular at area basketball games over the past few months. Thus I witnessed struggles by children and adolescents with overly competitive behavior.

Parents seated nearby shared my concerns and wondered if sports encourage aggressive outbursts in participants and if competition is healthy for children. One mother, alarmed by her son’s behavior, inquired, “How will I know if he needs professional help?”

Good question. And, at her request, I shall address it.

Perhaps the best way to think of this issue is in terms of normal childhood development. Toddlers begin to have competitive feelings with siblings, which often focus on the issue “Me first!”

Gradually these competitive feelings get expressed outside the family with peers in preschool. But by kindergarten and certainly 1st grade, children should be able to relate to age-mates as partners with feelings. Thus they are socially ready for group play. Competitive feelings still exist, but not in such a demanding, mean-spirited way.

By their nature, games are an arena for the deployment of competitive skills – some of an attacking and others of a defending nature. Governed by inflexible rules, participants must be able to tolerate frustration and control their aggression.

 As they play and compete, all children compare themselves to others to see where they fall on the achievement scale, priding themselves on their abilities and worrying about their shortcomings.

Eventually healthy children get on friendly terms with their strengths and weaknesses and gain both proficiency and pleasure from competitive games. They also develop an appreciation for their teammates’ skills and can play cooperatively without becoming overly excited or aggressive.

But some children suffer in silence, withdrawing from group play as they feel so inferior to their peers. Others show off their superiority – taunting and ridiculing those who cannot perform at their level. In both of these situations, children are telling adults, through their behavior, that they are in need of help.

Other indicators of a need for professional assistance include:

  • Overly aggressive behavior with a desire to hurt others
  • Inability to tolerate frustration leading to outbursts
  • Overly controlling behavior (ie. “ball hog”)
  • Endless complaints about unfairness and being mistreated
  • Repeatedly cheating
  • Inability to tolerate losing; desperate need to win
  • Showing off and always expressing “better than” feelings

For more Parenting Tips, visit www.westpsychotherapy.com.

Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Santa Question

This is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually.

The Tooth Fairy

No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a child starts losing teeth – at about 6 – he’s already well aware that there’s no good reason for someone in a tutu with wings and a wand to go flitting from bedroom to bedroom gathering up the baby teeth from the world’s first-graders. What could she possibly do with them all?

Then to confirm his suspicions that some hoax is involved, you wake him up in the middle of the night feeling around under his pillow, or you fall asleep before he does and neglect to switch the lost tooth for a silver dollar until he reminds you. But he doesn’t complain; he’s happy for the extra cash and he enjoys the game.

The Easter Bunny

That a rabbit would hop about carrying a basket, hiding eggs and delivering jelly beans is a story so silly that a very small child could see through it. She loves the fantasy of it, however, as well as all that candy that she’s actually allowed to eat before breakfast on Easter morning.

But it wouldn’t ruin her day at all if she were to catch you hiding the eggs. She understands imaginative play full well and would know right away that you’re just pretending.

Superman and Wonder Woman

Children enjoy pretending they are these all-powerful characters, and we adults can easily understand why they would: Children are small and comparatively weak, while these superheroes are neither.

You let them wear bath towels as capes around their shoulders and fly about the house saving captive dolls and rescuing endangered teddy bears. You only intervene if the furniture seems threatened, or if the children appear to actually believe that they could safely leap out of windows.

But they don’t. They understand it’s all fantasy play and so do you.

Hannukah Charlie

For some reason he never did make it to the big time, maybe because he was just thought up as a Santa Claus substitute. Which brings us to …

Santa Claus

On the one hand there are those who, for religious, moral or psychological reasons, want him done away with:

He represents greed, they say, not the true spirit of Christmas; parents who demonstrate their love by making or buying elaborate gifts for their children should not give that overweight, bearded virtual stranger the credit. Parents should not tell lie after lie to their children about how he gets into their house even though they don’t have a fireplace – or why he appears in every store and on every street corner even though there’s only one of him. Or how he can manage to get to the millions of children in the world in only one night, etc. He doesn’t really exist and we should tell our children, so they say – and the earlier the better.

On the other hand are those parents who still half-believe in Santa themselves:

They tell their kids that Santa “sees them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake” so they’d better behave or Santa won’t leave them any presents. They start decorating the house with red-suited icons shortly after Halloween, insist that their kids visit a department store Santa and sit on his lap even if they scream in protest, and maintain the Santa myth until their kids are well into their teens.

Which way to lean on the issue of Santa is up to the individual family, of course. But our recommendation would be for moderation. The fun about believing in Santa is not lost when the pretend aspect of it is acknowledged. It’s probably a good idea not to frighten your children with Santa – either with his all-knowing ability to know if they ate all their peas or fed them to the dog; or with forcing your little one to sit on the lap of someone she never met and doesn’t care to. But go ahead and play the game.

Pretend along with your child that there really is a sleigh pulled with reindeer and a North Pole where elves create shiny toys. But you needn’t lie and connive to perpetuate the myth. Pretend that Santa brings gifts to your house on Christmas Eve, but if you’ve spent many hours building a dollhouse or saved up for months in order to buy that special bicycle, let your child know that those gifts are from you.

Speculate with your children about how Santa manages to do all those miraculous things, but don’t be afraid to explain that it’s all magical make-believe, pretend. Just like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Wonder Woman and Superman are pretend. Very real, but still pretend. Who knows better than your child about pretending?

And don’t keep all the fun for yourself. Let him pretend to be Santa too.

Image courtesy of Ron Bird/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Keeping holidays focused on the children

It’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up.

The holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and store shelves overburdened with things to buy.

We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how the dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children – particularly the preschoolers – in mind over the next few weeks?

“Oh for goodness sakes” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind. We rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. We push our time limits to take them to see the big-headed characters in the downtown shopping center. What more do you want us to do?”

Perhaps we should all take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we insist “These holidays are for children.”

Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone.

Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching one preschoolers after another scream while being hoisted onto the bearded man’s lap.

Perhaps being pulled along through the mall trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not something that is fun. Perhaps a mound of toys, to be opened in a few hours is, in truth, overwhelming.

“Yes,” you agree, “each year we do resolve to calm it down – next time But each year we get caught up in the excitement and the guilt we know we’ll feel if we let someone down.”

We Grandmothers got together and, after admitting that we too get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.

1. Let your preschoolers help you

Decide whether a picture with Santa or the trip to the mall to see the big-heads is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes for young children.

Set up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts.

Kids love to help in making cookies or decorating butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper.

Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.

More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child – and the inner pleasure she gets as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation – far outweighs the time it takes to clean up. 

2. Prepare them for what’s happening

When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one o four own grandchildren once did, that they won’t be returning home.

Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions that often never get voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear.

“Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Spot? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?” There are reasonable questions for a young child who has little experience with such holiday hubbub.

Often people come to visit and household members are shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection.

A discussion ahead of time about the change – about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep – often helps alleviate any showdown.

Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays

3. Reduce the burden on yourself

We can take a cue from the breaking news each year that the “Black Friday” shopping rush has overtaken a little bit more of Thanksgiving Day, as employees implore management to “please respect our families and allow these rare times when we can be together.”

The times children remember as most special are those when parents themselves are able to relax and enjoy special time together.

Though it may be difficult at first, mothers and fathers can reduce the times when they are feeling they have to rush along with young children plastered to their sides to get it all done. Make these holidays “those periods of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”

Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

 

Please don’t scare the little ones at Halloween time

Every year, the month of October brings a crescendo of frights leading up to Halloween. They appear everywhere – on television, in stores, at parties and even early learning centers and schools.

It’s all meant in fun, but for very young children scary fun isn’t fun at all; it’s just scary.

Here’s a column written several years ago. As long as we can count on zombies and goblins to appear this time of year, we’ll resurrect it as a reminder to parents, educators and concerned adults.

–Webmaster


Dear Grandmothers:  A few years ago, my 3-year-old Phoebe helped me hand out treats on Halloween and we were having a lot of fun until a child dressed as a witch came to the door. Phoebe was terrified—she ran and hid under a table and wouldn’t even go near the door the rest of the evening. What should I do to make Halloween less traumatic for her this year?            –Phoebe’s Mom

We answered:  First, let us congratulate you on taking your child’s fears seriously – and before October 30. So often, we are taken by surprise when all the hype — which begins just after the Back to School sales — begins to cause our children to become over-excited or nervous. We may not realize that such behavior is all about the upcoming season of scare.

Despite all our talk to our preschoolers about the difference between what’s pretend and what’s real, they are still too young to really know this. Even though they say “I know it’s not real,” they can still be confused and frightened when confronted by witches, skeletons, ghosts and monsters – all the scary props of the season.

You can help your preschooler if you can just remember that everything she sees is absolutely real to her.

Another way to help young children is to recognize that your memories of your childhood Halloween fun are not from your preschool years.  You certainly were in elementary school when you had so much fun trick or treating until all hours with your friends, watching a scary video, or visiting a haunted house.

Many parents remember only those school-age Halloweens and think that such activities are what it’s all about, even for the littlest children. But they’re not—those kinds of activities are way too much for preschoolers.

Don’t worry;  you have many years ahead of reliving your childhood Halloween fun.  Just don’t rush it with the little ones.

So, what can you do for Phoebe this year?

Protect her from scary TV (even many commercials are overwhelming and frightening—or, at the very least, confusing).

Be on the lookout for signs that she is overwhelmed, overexcited, scared.  Is she running around excitedly, or does she cling to you, have her fingers in her mouth? Any unusual behavior at this time of year should make you wonder if she’s confused or frightened and should prompt you to ask her if she is worried about something.

Just your recognition of her nervousness will reassure her and help her to calm down.

If you can get her to tell you what she is worried about, don’t try to talk her out of her fears; acknowledge them and try to figure out a way to help her manage.

Let her decide how much she wants to participate in Halloween activities, respect her wishes. And give her a calmed down, low-key Halloween:  a costume, no mask;  trick or treating at a few friends’ or neighbors’ houses;  pumpkins and cute black cat decorations;  protections from anything that is overwhelming and not understood—or at least acknowledgement of those things and reassurance from you that you will keep her safe.

So, have fun this year, but be on the lookout for things that are “too much.”  All too soon she’ll be 10 and begging you to help her put up a haunted house in the garage.

Photo courtesy of Phaitoon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Las Vegas shooting: What your children need right now

Another horrific event has occurred, and it will dominate the news and social media for days and weeks.

Except for the very youngest children, you won’t likely succeed in sheltering them from it. They will seek to understand what they see and hear, trying to put it inthug_David Castillo Dominici_freedigitalphotoso the context of what they know about the normal and expected.

The amount of information children need from parents in such situations differs depending on the child and, of course, his or her age. Here are a few resources to help talk with your children about the recent news of violence in Las Vegas.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When little ones learn of the bad things in the world

Try to remember what it was like when you were small and you lay in bed in the dark at night, afraid. If you have a better than average memory, you can recall the monster under the bed, the witch in the closet, the skeleton that tapped at your window with a bony finger.

Maybe you smile now when you remember those fears, because of course there was no monster, no witch, no skeleton – only shadows and a tree branch being blown by the wind.

You were probably 3 or 4 years old. You called for mom or dad to come protect you and maybe they came and sat beside you for a while; maybe they came and yelled at you to go to sleep; but whichever, mom or dad was there, and pretty soon it was morning.

Fast forward through a year or two of mornings, to the day you realized that while they could protect you from monsters under the bed, there were real monsters in the world against whom they just might be helpless.

  • How were they going to protect you from a kidnapper climbing in the window if they were sound asleep in their bed down the hall?
  • How were they going to save you from a fire suddenly engulfing the house; hadn’t you seen a father crying on the evening news because he’d been unable to get through the flames to rescue his little boy?
  • What if a robber broke down the door, and that robber had a gun?
  • What if there were a flood, or a tornado, or an earthquake, bigger and stronger than any grown-up could possibly be?

At those memories, we bet you stop smiling. That’s a terrifying moment – the one in which you discover that your parents aren’t gods.

Now you’re the parent of course, wondering what to say to your fearful child when he realizes that you’re not godlike. You are confident in your ability to comfort your child when he is younger and afraid of the products of his own imagination, but you are unsure of what to say when he asks about something he’s seen on television or heard about from his friends – something all too real. Is it true? he might ask. Did that really happen?

You don’t want to lie. But listen to the question. What is he really asking? Probably what he wants to know is, “Could that happen to me and to my family?” And what he needs to hear from you isn’t that bad things don’t happen, but reassurances that you are not helpless; that you know what to do.

Yes, houses catch on fire, but you have a smoke detector, you know how to call the fire department, and you know how to get everyone out of the house.

Yes, there are tornados, but you know the part of the house where the beams are strong and the family can go until the storm blows over.

You know how to keep him safe. Those things are not for him, but for you to worry about.

Your attitude and tone of confidence will be as reassuring as the words you use. By the same token, if every time there’s a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder you visibly cower and rush to switch on the weather channel, it will be noticed. Try to take control of your own fears even in a potential crisis and certainly in an actual one. Your reaction is vital to your children’s sense of security, so for their sake, continue if at all possible to exude confidence and constancy. Collapse later, in private.

And then there’s the Big Question that they are going to ask sooner or later: are YOU going to die?

A Victorian parent might have answered, yes, I am going to die and you are going to die; everyone is going to die, so you’d better be very, very good every day because you never know if it’s going to be your last; you could very well die in your sleep tonight.

Those Victorian parents must not have realized what the children were really asking, which was, surely, “Are you going to die when I am still little and so desperately in need of you?” Knowing that, your answer would be more like, “I’m not going to die for a very long time, and I’ll be here to take care of you until you are grown up and have children of your own.”

Pardon us for a diverting story about one of the Grandmothers’ adorable grandchildren. One very precocious just-barely-3- year-old girl asked her grandma when she was going to die. Grandma took the girl on her knee and gave her several paragraphs about the seasons of life, and how she planned to be around until the child had children of her own – until her mommy was a grandmother, in fact, and that all this was very beautiful and not at all sad. The little girl listened quietly, and then asked, “When you die, can I have your shoes?”

So we are advised to listen carefully to our children’s questions, and also to what they say when they don’t know what questions to ask, or if they don’t seem to feel reassured by our reassurances.

Ask, “Why do you think it could happen?” or “You look worried; I’m wondering what worries you.” Try to find out what he or she has observed or been told – and certainly don’t dismiss those fears, not even the monster-under-the-bed ones.

Do both: take his worries seriously but also offer reassurances that you know how to keep him safe.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net