by Anita DiGregory
WAYS TO MAKE CHILDREN FEEL SAFE WHEN THE WORLD DOESN’T FEEL SO SAFE
Sometimes, this world can be a pretty scary place, and not just for children. Between the news, social media, and the internet, things can feel pretty out of control these days. So, when riots, violence, and images of anger and hatred seem to dominate the media, how do we help our children to feel safe? As a mother of six children, here are some hints I have found to be helpful.
Disconnect and Reconnect
In a world where Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, the Internet, and the news are all only one click away, it is very hard to escape the harsh realities that seem to lurk right outside our homes. As a result, many of my family and friends have chosen to step away from it all for a while by either deactivating their accounts or just taking a mini-media break. By doing so, it is easier to close the door on the anger and hatred and reconnect with those most important to us: our family and friends. We can all benefit from breaking from the web and spending time making more memories together.
By spending time away and reconnecting with family, children of all ages will tend to feel less anxious, more connected, and experience less of a loss of control. Whether it is a family game day, a day hike, a weekend camping trip, or even a day trip to a favorite destination, disconnecting from media and reconnecting as a family will help children see the world as a safer place than the media paints it to be. Even a recent episode of Duck Dynasty featured Willie Robertson taking his family and their friends out on a fishing trip…the catch was that they all had to leave their phones and devices at home. By disconnecting, we are able to more easily reconnect with nature, our loved ones, and our many blessings.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
With today’s media saturation, it is even hard for adults to cope with the images and messages of violence and hate. Children are even more sensitive to this and often internalize what they see, resulting in increased anxiety. Talking with them about their fears will help them to feel less anxious. Depending on their age and level of development, children may have difficulty communicating about how they are feeling. As cliché as it may sound, creating a safe space for them is extremely helpful in opening the lines of communication. For example, taking them out for ice cream or going fishing together may help them to feel more relaxed and connected, allowing them to share their thoughts more freely. For younger children, reading stories about feeling afraid or drawing pictures about their fears may help them to communicate their fears better. Even if their fears sound irrational, it is important to remember it is very real for them.
Try to be empathetic, understanding, and help them to feel safe. If a child’s fears are resulting in destructive or negative behaviors or robbing them of daily joy in life, it may be necessary to seek some professional help. Just as the child would need to see a doctor if they had a broken bone, they may need some professional assistance if their anxieties are causing them emotional brokenness.
Limit Exposure to Fear-causing Stimuli
Over the years, I have learned my children are like sponges, and they often hear and understand a lot more than I think they do. Limiting their exposure to scary media images is extremely beneficial. Although today’s world can often be overwhelming for adults, it is also beneficial for us to limit our demonstrations of distress in front of our children. It is very important for children to feel safe and have a sense of control in their environment.
Appeal to a Higher Power
People of faith know prayer as very powerful. Prayer is essentially a conversation with God. By praying together, children feel confident in knowing that they are not alone, even during their scariest moments. One of my children’s favorite books is Emma and Mommy Talk to God by Marianne Williamson. In it, Emma and her mother talk about prayer and pray together. Prayer is powerful for Emma, so much so that it empowers her with faith so that when she wakes up scared in the middle of the night, she is able to pray and feel comforted. One of my children had an overwhelming fear of tornadoes. She felt better, safer, and more secure knowing that God was always near, no matter the time or place, and being able to pray to Him.
Bombarded by scenes of protests, riots, violence, and destruction, adults and children alike may experience a loss of hope and faith in humanity. When anger abounds, it is even more important to counter that with kindness. By performing random acts of kindness, children are empowered, knowing they can make a difference in the world, and that, in turn, makes it just a little bit less scary, reestablishes hope, and restores faith in humanity. Additionally, kindness also has another very positive side effect: It is often contagious! When someone reaches the front of the line at the coffee shop to find their coffee has been paid for by another, that patron is inclined to pay for the person behind them. Think of the good we could all do if we strived every day to model kindness by performing these random acts. By modeling this for our children, and even performing these acts with them, we not only help them to feel safer and more secure, but also teach them how to think of others and not so much about ourselves, and in turn make the world a better place.