Creating Security for Children in a Scary World
How to make a pocket of peace for our families and ourselves.
My daughter, Shaindy, traveled to America last week to visit with my mother. Upon returning to her home in Israel, Shaindy was greeted with a Welcome Home sign pasted onto her front door. Her six-year-old daughter had colored a picture of an El-Al plane, with a bright yellow sun. Behind the windows of the plane, she drew her mommy’s smiling face along with other passengers, and parallel to her mommy were the faces of terrorists, each with a fist raised holding sharp daggers.
In the drawing her mother faces terrorists holding sharp daggers.
Is this how our children see the world?
It’s not only in Israel that we must put ourselves into the shoes of frightened children. I spoke with a bat-mitzvah-aged girl who confided that she often feels scared. Many marriages around her are dissolving and she worries that one day she too will become a child of divorce. She watches friends deal with shaky finances, health issues, sick grandparents or siblings who seem out of control. “And the world is full of wars,” she added.
It can be overwhelming for children to deal with so much chaos, in addition to handling the pressures of school, friends and after school activities.
How can we keep our children grounded and maintain a positive outlook in life?
Many parents themselves are grappling with similar fears. How do we create a pocket of peace in a world gone mad?
Before takeoff, flight attendants instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask first, begin to breathe and only then can you attempt to help your children.
The same holds true in life. We can only help our children deal with fears if we live with confidence that we can overcome obstacles. When children detect that parents are panicked, they grow fearful themselves. We must work on resolving our inner emotions of trepidation and never display hysteria. Parents who transmit a sense of calm despite the storm raging outside provide their children with serenity. Though this may not be easy for a parent undergoing distress, it is crucial that we strive to master self-control.
Husbands and wives in stressful situations should speak together privately and resolve to create a haven within their home. This means that we watch our tone, our language, and try hard to communicate patience and understanding. We don’t react in sharp tones or swat our loved ones aside with a dismissive word or gesture because of pressure.
Drawing upon one’s faith is also an anchor that provides our families with a sense of security in difficult times. When we reinforce our traditions, find solace in prayer, and commit to family rituals we are showing our children that we live with clear and established beliefs despite the turbulence that is taking place in our lives. It is not a matter of convenience, dependent on moods or feel-good emotions. Our faith is a bedrock of strength independent of turmoil and challenge. No matter how difficult the week has been my Shabbos candles bring light to my home. We are together, acquiring a sense of continuity and love. In a broken world we parents are here to heal.
When the world feels out of control a child’s sense of safety and trust is challenged. How can we help our children better cope? (Of course we are not speaking about phobias, anxiety, or childhood trauma which must be addressed professionally.)
Recognize that your child’s fear is real
Don’t ignore your child’s fears. Children become afraid at different ages, of different situations. Apprehension, worry, and feeling frightened are genuine concerns.
Validate the emotions
Allow your child to share his fears. Talk to him and permit him to communicate feelings.
Don’t make fun or belittle
A child shouldn’t feel as if he is bad or babyish for expressing worry. Be careful to avoid saying things like “a girl your age shouldn’t be afraid,” “that’s just silly,” or “stop being such a cry baby.” That only knocks your child’s self-esteem and prevents him from sharing in the future.
Don’t indulge a child’s fears
Show empathy but be careful not to fall apart each time your child tells you that he is afraid. When kids hear us talking about them and telling spouses and grandmothers that they are scared and anxious, we are adding drama to the situation. Find a balance between the emotions you display.
Teach coping strategies
Help your child work through the challenge. Positive self-statements like “I can do this” or “I will be ok” can help children navigate moments when they feel anxious. Some kids are empowered when they draw upon words of a prayer, others when they envision a happy memory. Some children who are afraid in the dark discover calm from a nightlight. Get to know your child and find the strategy that works for him.
Sharing stories of your own fears and how you overcame them can be an incredible source of comfort to a child.
Model being brave
Adults who lose it will raise children who lose it. Whether it is a fear of cockroaches, flying, blood tests, or unseen dangers from the world you live in, you cannot afford to freak out. Children who view their parents as in control feel secure in a world gone mad.
No matter how chaotic things get, our mission as parents is to guide, teach, and lead. Creating a pocket of peace will become part of your life-long legacy.
Our family thanks you for your continued prayers for my beloved mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Esther bas Miriam.