My oldest son, Sam, was born 4 days after September 11, 2001. As I held him, a new beautiful baby, in my arms, I felt joy and contentedness. He had that lovely baby smell, and warm, soft skin. We shared warmth, closeness and emotional bonding during those first few hours and days. Yet, I also was keenly aware of the unimaginable terror that gripped so many people and families at that same time. I saw the images of destruction, death, and loss on the news, and heard the conversations about the bombings in the halls at the hospital. I struggled with being torn to learn more, but not wanting to give up the bonding experience with my newborn.
As I looked down at my newborn, I was overcome with gratitude, but also some confusion. How was it that we were blessed with the gift of this new, beautiful life to care for while simultaneously so many were grieving the brutal, shocking loss of their loved ones? “What would his life be like?” I wondered.
Unfortunately, violence, illness, and tragedy are common experiences in our world. They touch every person, every family, and every community. People are very strong, and able to withstand very hard things, but these events test our strength in ways we never imagined. Resiliency researchers study how people rebound from tragedy. They also study how people handle adversity, and yet continue to go on to experience joy and love.
Tamar Chansky, an author on anxiety in children, states, “our purpose [as parents] is to help our children recover and be resilient, not to be frightened of their lives.” Some of the findings from this growing body of research, and how we as parents can help our children develop their own resiliency, are detailed below.
Stop the avoidance
Many parents have appropriately question whether there is anything they can do to keep their children safe, strong, and healthy. Many parents, even myself at times, avoid thinking about all the hard things their children may face. Sometimes, this avoidance feels easier than contemplating a future that seems so scary or uncontrollable. However, by avoiding thoughts of fear or tough things in the world, we also evade making healthier changes in our lives, and our children’s lives.
Establish Healthy Social Connections
One of the most important buffers for stress is our connection to other people. It is important to provide healthy opportunities for your child’s friendships. But, it is also important to supervise these relationships, in age appropriate ways. Make sure your child is not being isolated or feeling left out. Know who their friends are. Talk to her about her friends, and what she likes or what’s hard for her. Encourage your child to have friends over for movies or activities. Offer to drive to events or activities. By knowing your child’s friends, it will be easier for your child to converse and share her life with you.
Spend time together as a family
Enjoy one another. Enjoy your children. Find ways to enjoy one other in small, yet meaningful ways. Activities like eating together, a favorite TV show, cooking, homework, or even talks while driving your child places to activities can be very important for bonding. Make room emotionally for your child in your life. Relax. Put down the electronics. Make connecting with your child a priority. Relationships matter.
Teach your child to empathize
If your child wants a friend, teach him to be a good friend. Model empathy to your child, as well as how to care about others’ feelings. Teach your child that all people struggle at times, and how important it is to have compassion and concern rather than frustration and anger. When someone is behaving unkindly to you, demonstrated patience with them, and talk about it with your child. Similarly, by having your child help others through service or kind words, he will gain practice with compassion, but also feel more power in the world around him.
The world’s so bigKid President (Robby Novak) and Brian Montague
And we’re so small,
Sometimes it feels like we can’t do anything at all.
But the world can be better
(In spite of its flaws)
The world can be better, and you’ll be the cause
And even though the waves are bigger than our boats,
The wind keeps us sailing
It’s love gives us hope.
Some days it’s dark, but we’ll keep rowing
Because people like you whisper,
“Keep going, keep going, keep going.”