It seems like every day I see something more horrific in the news. Natural disasters are terrible and sad but what feels even more inexplicable are the things that we do to each other. This week alone I read an article comparing and contrasting three unrelated shootings in different cities and another about how a father used Facebook to auction off his 16 year old daughter to the highest bidder.
I know you are struggling to make sense of them too…. But at least we are adults.
How on Earth to explain this to a kid?
First, think about your family values. I think before you have any big conversations with kids, it's important to have an idea of what you want to instill in them for life. So what are they? Feel free to make a list, I can wait. Education? Kindness? Honesty? Faith/spirituality? Community? Being able to ground all the big things in the values you want to impart, will help you instill and reinforce the message you want to give them.
Next, think about their age and what they need to know. The information a 5 year old needs is very different than what a 15 year old needs. In fact, depending on the age and developmental stage of your child, you will need to present this differently.
Before you bring it up, here are some thoughts
- If I don't tell my kid, will are they likely to find out from someone else? When the answer yes, then it makes sense to get in front of it. If the answer is no, but you think they are old enough and emotionally capable of having a thoughtful conversation about it (like say a 15 year old), then bringing it up as a topic of conversation and allowing them to participate (not just be lectured) can give you an opportunity to inject your values.
- Am I emotionally ready to have the conversation? I know your kid has zinged you with at least a couple of big questions that seemed to come from absolutely no where. This might be a time when you can take a beat and compose yourself before you approach it. I'm in no way suggesting that you need to be monotone and disconnected from the topic but it would be good if you were able to be emotionally available for them if/when they get upset about the topic.
- What do I need them to know about it? In a couple of different places, I have heard people say that when something bad happens, look for the helpers. That may or may not be the message you want to impart but lean on your family values here. What do you want them to take away? It is important to ground it in something so that they are not left to fend for themselves intellectually. You are the first person to help them start to understand a very big and complicated world. DO NOT skip this step it is probably the most important one.
- Be available for follow up, even if you don't know the answers. It is totally ok not to know what to say each time. Especially once our kid is older, being able to demonstrate the gray in the world can be very powerful. You have a unique opportunity to show them what it is like to sit in discomfort, fear, anxiety without having to make poor choices (like using chemicals to numb out, using social media to lash out, making rash and/or dangerous choices).
Keep in mind
There is no perfect anything. Your words may not come out right, your kid might get upset. All of this stuff is ok. In fact, I will go on a limb and say it's BETTER!! When things don't go our way, we have a powerful opportunity to show up for our kids by being present in the mess and humble. Stuff is going to go wrong. #LIFE. Part of being a parent is showing your kids how to deal when life does not go the way we really wanted or needed it to go.
Need some more?
If you on in the Austin area and you want to learn more about this, I will be giving a talk at the YWCA on Monday (11.26.18). You can register HERE.
As always, I’m here. If you are ready to live your best life, call me and let’s get started!