Written by Jason Grooms
As parents, our strongest emotions and greatest instincts all connect to our children in one way or another. We are proud of them greater than any pride for ourselves. We love them deeper than any other love we’ve felt. We fear for them worse than any other fear. And above all, we want to protect them with a ferocity that is unparalleled.
On a biological level, it’s one of the mechanisms that has evolved to preserve our genetic lineage and protect our survival as a species. From a scientist’s view, it makes perfect sense that a species which has relatively few offspring, born undeveloped and unable to function on their own, would be among the most protective in the entire animal kingdom.
From a father’s view, it represents some of the worst pain I have ever felt. When we see our child hurt or afraid, the subsequent feeling of helplessness can be devastating and paralyzing and cause us to react in ways we wouldn’t in any other circumstance. This past Tuesday millions of parents and children to fall headfirst into that feeling – the presidential election.
I will note here that I do indeed have strong feelings about the election, but I’m not going to discuss them here and that’s not what this article is really about. Over the past week, I’ve seen a lot of fear, angst, and even despair among my friends, the vast majority of whom are parents. So I want to focus how we can help our kids when they see something happen on a world stage that causes them the same fear or anxiety. It could be any number of things (war, death, devastation, natural disaster) but this election night is the most recent and poignant event that caused fear for my older kids.
Being the father of LGBT kids brings out a special level of distress for their very bodily existence. My teenage daughter, in particular, took the results hard and that night her anxiety was in full force. My wife and I sat with her and rode it out with her all night. As the days passed the feelings slowly subsided and normal life resumed for the most part. But getting through those days and helping her make sense of the events and feelings is difficult and it can be hard to know what to say or do to help.
Here are a few things that I’ve learned over the years that help. Some of them I learned through hard life lessons and others through great teachers or mentors. I call it the D.A.D. method.
D – Don’t panic – I know it goes without saying, but I’ve always taught my kids that the most important thing in any emergency is to stay calm. The same goes here. We may be raging on the inside, but we have to try to stay calm and talk through the situation with them. Children are programmed to take their emotional and mental queues from their elders. The younger they are, the truer this is. When they see us getting upset, even if they don’t show it, they’ll internalize it too. That does NOT mean we can’t get upset about things. There are injustices that we should rightly be indignant about, but tempering our response and channeling our anger into actions or plans helps teach them coping mechanisms for when they are older.
It can also help to restrict or delete some unnecessary causes of panic, primarily major news outlets and social media. The world will not fall apart if we don’t watch CNN or Fox or if we don’t weigh in with our cousin’s stupid FaceBook post. In fact, taking a social media break may be just the thing to help drive the anxiety level down.
A – Ask questions – Fear and anxiety are most often a result of the mind run amuck and taking a situation to its most cataclysmic conclusion. Rationalizing through the situation can rewire that reaction. Ask them “What is really going to happen?” “What is the worst thing that could happen?” “What is the likelihood that is going to happen?” “What can we do if that happens?” Talk through each of the possible scenarios and what the true outcome might be. Asking questions and letting them answer helps them build new channels of thinking and teaches them to ask those same questions later on when those feelings might arise again. This also gives them better critical thinking skills which can help them challenge inflammatory rhetoric or unwarranted fear mongering in the future.
D – Do good – I have always loved the quote from Mr. Rogers about looking for the helpers when you see scary things on the news. What an incredible way to focus on the positive. What if we could be the helpers when something scary happens? I am incredibly proud of my kids in this regard. They’ve always been quick to give or sacrifice for others. When someone is in need, they want to help. The same can be applied in a scary situation, even an election. Sometimes it’s as simple as focusing on being a good citizen in our community and volunteering or looking for a cause to support that resonates with them. Get involved in your local political process or take action to support legislation or amendments that matter to them.
It may not feel like the actions of an individual can have a major impact on the world but it really can. The important thing is to teach our kids to take positive, loving action when they want to see change. Remember that quote from Gandhi about “being the change”? Well, he didn’t actually say it, but what he did say was even more profound.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
It is a very similar sentiment but the subtleties are important, primarily the idea that we can change the world through changing own nature and that we don’t need to wait for others to act in order to act ourselves. It’s not easy, especially when it’s mixed in with anger, by taking the negative energy and redirecting it can be incredibly powerful. Teaching our kids to channel their fear and anxiety into positive, loving action not only helps them deal with the situation. They just might change the world.
Photo Credit: Photo by hotblack at Morguefile.com