Without a doubt, the world around us is rapidly changing, and our children are aware of more than we might think. Their listening ears hear worried grown-ups talk of job losses, “the economy”, political concerns, swine flu, and home foreclosures. If we parents have concerns about the future, imagine what they must feel. Our children are growing up bearing a burden that you and I didn’t have to bear.
What is the best way to help our children feel secure in these tumultuous times? These seven steps are important for establishing a strong family at any time but are particularly effective and necessary these days.
Be rock-solid parents
When flight attendants instruct passengers to put oxygen masks on their own faces before those of their children, it’s a logical sequence. Be strong yourself and you’ll be better able to help your children. More than ever, our children need us to be rock-solid. We owe it to our kids to be the adults in the family even when childish urges to over-spend or disregard commitments and responsibilities tempt us.
If you’re not feeling particularly strong, please give yourself permission to take care of you. If you need to talk with a counselor about your own feelings of helplessness and fears, make the appointment! When you read a checklist of the symptoms of depression and you can check off most of them, call your doctor! Something as simple as journaling can help relieve stress and put our concerns into perspective. When Mom and Dad are at a weak point in their lives, children become very vulnerable. Strong parents build strong children.
Talk amongst yourselves
There are conversation subjects that children do not need to hear. Has the family down the street lost their home? Is Dad worried about losing his job? Keep those conversations private and between adults only. If it’s tough finding a time and place to talk without the kids around, leave the children with a trusted adult, hop in your car and drive. Literally! Drive 30 or 40 minutes in one direction, turn around and drive back. That’s at least an hour of quiet, uniterrupted talking time, and it only cost a couple of dollars in fuel!
Remember that “date night” advice you’ve heard over and over again? Right now is a good time to put that into practice, if for no other reason than to talk about current issues and difficult decisions. It’s important to keep adult subject matter between adults.
When questions do arise, answer them honestly with brief, simplified explanations. Kids mostly want and need to hear that they will be okay. Even if your own situation is dire, you can still reassure them by telling them they’re loved and that life is still good.
Have more family time
My current battle in our home is against, “screen time,” the time any of us spend in front of a television or computer screen. Every minute spent looking at a screen is a minute taken away from family time. Now more than ever, time spent doing things together will help children feel more secure through stronger family bonds.
Reading aloud is one of the best ways I know of building relationships within a family and increasing time together. As a story unfolds, suddenly everyone is experiencing the same adventure together. Books such as Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach stir up imaginations, but more importantly, conversations.
Physical exercise and activities don’t have to cost a dime, and they provide great bonding time while helping everyone stay in shape. Walks through the neighborhood, bike rides along a dusty trail, or hiking through a forest filled with autum color provides time to talk, time to observe nature, and a chance to escape from everyday stress.
Focus on the doing part of family time. Watching TV or a movie together doesn’t count!
Include one-on-one time
Just as important as family time, is the time we parents spend with each child individually. My daughter is at her happiest when the two of us are strolling through the aisles of our local craft store. We dream up projects we can do together and then scurry around looking for the supplies, choosing colors, beads, and plumes. My talkative son just wants to be heard. On a trip to a hardware store, he will talk the entire way there and the entire way back. All he needs to know is that mom or dad is listening.
If you study your children, you will soon know their deepest needs and desires. Pay careful attention to their begging.
“Mom, please can’t we go to the library?”
“Mom! Watch me hit this ball!”
If you listen, you will soon learn what they need most. Time spent one-on-one can help meet those needs and emphasize to that little one the truth of their importance to you and the unique place they have in the world. Begin to set dates on your calendar for one-on-one time with each child and plan on spending lots of time just listening. And hugging.
Emphasize the good
Rising rates of foreclosures, bankruptcies, and job losses can easily overshadow the good that is still in our world. Emphasize the good things that happen on a daily basis. A good report card, a visit from Grandma, or a new pair of shoes help keep our kids focused on positive and uplifting thoughts. There is so much beauty and wonder in the world. Get in the habit of pointing out what is good. It will be good medicine for everybody!
Trust in a Greater Someone
Our kids want to believe their parents have all the answers, but we know better. Even though their eyes turn to us for reassurance, deep down they need to know that a watchful, loving Higher Power is there. Children find it easy to trust in God, even if they haven’t been taught about Him.
You can help build your child’s faith with a simple prayer time together each night. Our family writes down the names of people and situations we pray about to help us be more aware of answered prayers. When you read Bible stories or other stories of faith, point out examples of God’s faithfulness and goodness during troubled times. The story of Joseph and of the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt are exciting stories with lessons of trust and answered prayer.
During uncertain and insecure times, we parents are the glue that holds our families together and keep them strong. The times we live in may be uncertain, but our families can remain strong, our children filled with courage and confidence.