Raising Resilient Children
Teaching children to prevail over tragedies like Sandy Hook and Hurricane Sandy.
Is there really anything left to say?
After all the articles have been written, all the school psychologists’ advice studied, all the searing photos of innocent beautiful children looked at until they are memorized in our brains, is there anything left to say?
The mother of 6-year-old Noah Pozner delivered a message at her son’s funeral reflecting on the life of her little boy. Her words entered my heart; they remain there like a heavy stone that cannot be moved or lifted.
How do we give our children a sense of security when the world around us seems mad?
“The sky is crying and the flags are at half-mast. It is a sad, sad day. But it is also your day Noah my little man. I will miss your purposeful little steps stomping through our house. I will miss your perpetual smile, the twinkle of your dark blue eyes; framed by eyelashes that would be the envy of any lady in the room… Noah you will not pass through this way again. I can only believe that you were planted on this earth to bloom in heaven. Take flight my boy. Soar. You now have the wings you always wanted… I will join you one day. Not today. I still have lots of mommy love to give. Until then your melody will linger in our hearts forever. Mamma loves you, little man.”
This is pain that no parent should ever know.
Our world today is not the same world that we grew up in.
Slovie [L] with a family volunteering to help during a Hanukkah Sandy Relief drive.
What can we do as parents to give our children a sense of security when the world around us seems mad? Is there a way to cultivate resilience while surrounded by chaos and confusion?
It is not just this tragic shooting that may cause our children to feel off balance. Events these past few months have been unsettling, even disturbing. No one ever plans for these types of days when it feels as if there a dense fog covering the earth, paralyzing us from living life to its max.
The last you heard from me, I was huddled with my family in a friend’s home trying to get through the darkness of Hurricane Sandy. It had never dawned on me that I would be living in a place where cars would be washed away, homes condemned and parents would be seeking shelter for their children.
Thank God we are back home. But there are plenty of families who are not. There are sons and daughters who have lost all their shoes and clothing, toddlers who have not one toy to play with, and fathers and mothers who whisper into the night wondering ‘what will be?’
As all this was going on, my daughter who lives in Jerusalem found herself faced with the eerie sounds of sirens as she and her children were forced to stay in their shelter, threatened by the missiles that terrorized our people.
Life brings us to unexpected moments. Sometimes there are sudden natural disasters, other times there are awful tragedies that make us gasp. Personal challenges can feel as if you were punched in the stomach. No one wakes up in the morning knowing what the hours ahead will bring. We all strive for days that are filled with joy but there is so much out of our control.
Our children look toward us for strength. They seek security and stability from the adults in their lives.
Despite all that is beyond us, there is much that we have within our power to do in order to help our children feel emboldened. Resilience comes with the sense of some sort of control or order that can still be had in a world filled with confusion.
We need to empower our children with the ability to counter the darkness with light; to resist the urge to give up in despair or fall apart from too much sadness. We are here as parents to inspire, to guide, to lead and to teach the next generation that they can triumph over tragedy. It does not matter if the challenge has affected your community directly or not; realize that you can make a difference.
The question is: how?
Feel Their Pain
Ours is not the first generation that has been visited with difficulties. We all know that our ancestors suffered terribly in Egypt. They were enslaved and forced to do backbreaking work that crushed their spirits. The tribe of Levi was spared, though. Despite never being enslaved, they wanted their children to be aware of their brothers’ suffering. They gave them names like ‘Gershon’, ‘Kehas’ and‘Merari’-all Hebrew names that allude to the pain of their brethren. From here we learn that a person must participate in the distress of a community even if it does not affect him personally.
The least we can do is feel. We can begin by teaching our children to be sensitive to the pain that others are going through even if we ourselves are not suffering. We can inspire our children to pray. How many of us asked our children to pray for peace in Israel while missiles rained down from the sky? And now, if your children are aware of the tragic shootings that took place, they can write a letter of comfort to those that remain and are left to grapple with great loss.
Be a Force of Light
We can take this sense of participation a step further as we actively encourage our sons and daughters to create a force of light in this world and actually do something that will make a difference.
These past few weeks I have spoken to the many wonderful couples that I teach. I described the unbelievable situation that many are faced with. There are homes that were filled with sewage and salt water that destroyed literally everything. Cribs, linens, clothing, furniture, strollers, bikes, washers, dryers, boilers – you name it, it’s all gone.
Instead of being helpless, these children became helpful.
And then an incredible thing happened. I saw dazzling points of light being created. Moms and dads arrived with their children, their cars loaded with ‘wish lists’ that had been filled and now ready to be delivered. Boys and girls carried toys, bikes, and clothing to children who had none. I was asked to give over babysitting money, allowance dollars, and notes that said ‘instead of a Chanukah present this year I want to give this gift to a child my age.’
Instead of being helpless, these children became helpful. Feelings of powerless were replaced with emotions of being powerful. They realized that despite all that is beyond us there is much that we can do to make a difference in this world.
One mother wrote to me after her visit:
“This Chanukah we decided to take the money we would spend on each other and help a family that you matched us up with. A mother and father and their 8 children, the youngest born just before this horrific storm. They lost their entire first floor. Their children lost everything that was in their rooms and basement.
This is a family so unlike my family. Our customs and lifestyles are completely different. Our paths probably wouldn’t have ever crossed. Our one connection is being Jewish. We are one family.
As we pulled onto the block we could see the devastation immediately. We spent time talking and getting to know each other a bit. I noticed how all the children were taking care of each other. They were all in good spirits thankful for what they had and not focused on what they had lost. I honestly don’t know how we would have fared it that had happened to our home. This was such a joy to experience and this has made such a difference in our lives, one that we will remember forever.”
We can help our children make it through these challenging times and grow with new understanding that it takes just a little bit of light to push away the darkness. Help your child discover his inner force of light. Together you will triumph.