The famous saying, “May you live in interesting times,” is perhaps not something we would feel as comfortable sharing now that we know it can equally relate to either a blessing or a curse. It is certainly “interesting” in our world right now.
As parents, our job is not so much to “prepare the road for our children” as it is to “prepare our children for the road.” Life can be hard for all of us at any given time as there’s no amount of money that can protect us from life’s tragedies like being mugged, having a home burn down, or losing a loved one to a terminal illness or a car accident. That’s why schools today are starting to focus (or should be) on teaching empathy – understanding the plight of others – and it’s also why American schools have traditionally placed such an emphasis on sports – teaching kids the life skills of working with other people, bouncing back from defeat, and pursuing a common goal, rather than the narrow focus on academic test scores solely that some countries are known for today.
So today we’re happy to offer a few pieces of advice for all of you parents out there wondering how to make sense of things right now with your kids.
- Let your kids know that they’re safe. Unless you live in an area that’s under immediate physical threat, it’s important to reassure your kids – even if you have to look them directly in the eye – to let them know that mommy, daddy, and their neighbors are all there to protect them. Kids can easily have nightmares over the smallest of things and that’s why we have to double down on comforting them as best we can.
- In age appropriate terms, tell them why people are protesting. Although most historians generally subscribe to the “warts and all” philosophy of teaching history, meaning that we have to learn both the good and the bad, that’s not what textbook committees always do. Kids coming out of conservative schools are taught that America has never done anything wrong, while kids coming out of liberal schools are taught that America has never done anything right. And as with most things, the truth is in the middle. Kids need to learn America’s history of slavery and racism, but also the work that’s been done by people of all backgrounds to try to make things better.
- Distinguish between peaceful protests and looting. One sure sign of progress in America is that the protests against police violence have included Americans from all backgrounds… but so has the looting. Unfortunately, this is where, as with the police, a small percentage of ugly opportunists makes everyone else look bad and undermines the cause.
- Look for the helpers. This is one of the best pieces of advice we’ve ever heard in navigating tragedies, because of course it comes from none other than Mr. Rogers of Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS. For example, several television stations ran coverage of an African American national guard soldier talking with some Latino teenagers who were protesting, and they quickly came to an understanding. All around the country, police officers of all backgrounds have stopped and prayed with protestors of all backgrounds. There’s a lot of ugliness to be sure, but also a lot of good. We need to remind ourselves and our children to see the good.
- Turn off the television. Despite what the flashy graphics and fast paced stories might indicate, the world won’t come to an end if you turn off the television for a while and focus on other things. Checking in with the news every once in a while is fine – and it’s available to us on so many media right now – but keeping the news on for extended periods of time isn’t necessarily a healthy thing. If anything, that can remind us that we have other things we need to be focusing on, and the same is true for our kids. And if you’re in an area that has any sort of threats right now, the app “Citizen” is good for getting public safety alerts from the government and from your neighbors.
- Explain the stressors that so many people are feeling today. One political columnist said that the coronavirus pandemic is revealing a new fault-line in our society, between the people who can safely work from home and those who can’t. So many people are struggling right now because of the pandemic, with some communities disproportionately faring far worse right now, that the addition of an ugly case of police violence was enough to unleash a lot of pent up frustration and anger. And although we may think that this is mostly an urban issue, it’s also been just as much of an issue on farms and in meat processing plants in rural parts of the country, too.