Regardless of our best intentions as parents to guard our children from the hardships of the world, whether it is by turning off the 5 a.m. news or by limiting dining room table talk of current events, inevitably they will either hear the news or be directly affected by it.
When I think of “bad things” I divide them into two categories. The first being natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. The second being stressful life events such as death, health issues or financial struggles. If you are alive and breathing today, chances are you’ve been touched by at least one of these things.
Some questions are admittedly hard to navigate as adults, let alone explain to children. We know we must live our lives somewhere in between Chicken Little’s “the sky is falling” and “head in the sand” denial. My preferred method of approach is, “That which you focus on expands.” By focusing on and looking for the good in life we can find ourselves navigating life’s difficulties with wisdom and grace, and in turn help the little ones in our lives do the same.
A prime example of this happened recently as our family was affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. My brother and his family live there, and after the hurricane we were unable to contact them. After several long days, we received word that although their home was severely damaged, they were alive and well.
In an effort to focus on the blessing of all of us having survived 2017, we gathered together as a family for the holidays. While visiting one day, I asked my 9-year-old nephew what he wanted to be
when he grew up. He gave me a big, knowing smile and responded without hesitation, “happy.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if his experience of being trapped in a closet for hours on end as his home was being beat down by a hurricane helped form this rather mature opinion. Sometimes we must pass through the storm — figuratively or literally — to gain this perspective. In the end, I believe that we are all better in the aftermath our experiences.
“That which you focus on expands.”
I’ll never forget the line in the movie “Finding Nemo” when the dad promises his young son that he will never let anything happen to him. As improbable as this seems, too often as parents we take this approach thinking we are helping. In reality, if our children never feel the sting of losing a spelling bee or never feel the trepidation of standing up to the recess bully, how are they going to react to true adversity later in life?
In his book “The Whole Brain Child” Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. said it best explaining, “It’s often these difficult experiences that allow them to grow and learn about the world. Rather than trying to shelter our children from life’s inevitable difficulties, we can help them integrate those experiences into their understanding of the world and learn from them. How our kids make sense of their young lives is not only about what happens to them but also about how their parents, teachers and other caregivers respond.”
When bad things do happen, as they inevitably will, we can listen to their fears and acknowledge their worries, then reassure them that they are safe and loved, and help by providing them with strategies to cope.
One fun way to do this is to play a game called “The Thorn and The Rose” where each family member shares the most difficult part of their day (the thorn), followed by the best or most special part of their day (the rose). I like to end the conversation with the rose so we can linger and dwell on the positive.
It is an important part of healing to encourage our children to retell the events of the thorn, allowing them to feel heard. Then, by focusing on the positive, we can help them realize that good is there if we look for it.
In short, we may not have all the answers to why bad things happen, but we can choose how we react and what we focus on.
As the saying goes, every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.