Nobody knows what’s gonna happen tomorrow.
We try not to show how frightened we are.
We’ve got to believe it’ll be all right in the end.
–Duran Duran, “What Happens Tomorrow”
This past summer, my wife and I made the decision that our townhome of 9 years was getting too small for our family of four. With no yard for our kids, 7 and 4; still sharing a room with our son as there was only one other room, already taken by his older sister; and with no storage space leaving us with constant clean-up of toys and school papers—it was time.
In May, to ready the home for showing, we packed up a good majority of our things and put them in the garage to de-clutter and make it more inviting to visitors. But while our home sold within the first week, we did not move out until August and not into our new home until early September.
As a kid, I moved a lot due to my dad’s job. I’d make friends at a new school only to have my life changed by another move—oftentimes across the country—where we’d start over again. I was never quite sure where I’d end up next.
Uncertainty is a silent “monster under the bed” faced by many children. Despite our best efforts as parents to maintain a solid foundation for our little ones, that feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen next can be terribly unsettling. Children also pick up on the anxiety of their parents, heightening the anxiety they, themselves, are experiencing. Such emotions can bring about aggression, nightmares, and even a strong need to cuddle, be close, and feel nurtured and protected. Thing is—in these uncertain times—don’t we adults feel very similar in response to insecurity?
Over the past week, a great deal of people have felt as if the rug has been pulled out from beneath them. With the fear of where things are headed within the government, news of protests and riots, hate crimes occurring, bullying taking place between adults and children at school—we are all surrounded by heightened anxiety. And regardless of whether or children are hearing about it at school or experiencing it first-hand, they are picking up on the fear felt by many adults. We grown-ups are being bombarded by news, social media, work conversations, debates with friends and family—and this upset to “the norm” our children know and recognize puts them on edge just as much as us. The foundation—that aforementioned rug—has been pulled out from under everyone, regardless of where you stood at the voting booth. The aftermath of uncertainty has adults bickering and children cowering as tensions grow and feelings of insecurity and anxiousness rise. Nightmares take over. Aggression is felt and displayed. Grumpiness is commonplace. Bullying is imminent.
As parents, it is imperative, regardless of our stance, to make our children feel safe, comforted, secure, and loved. Soft voices, gentle touch, soothing words—these are all important tools and skills to keep at hand as we regroup at day’s end after work and school to check up on each other. Asking about each other’s day and addressing any concerns is more crucial than usual to assure those feelings of comfort, safety, and concern. Very important, also, is addressing concerns or instances of bullying. Although this is an element that is important—I feel—at all times in raising our kids, at a time when it is possibly more likely to occur and for feelings to be hurt, the living, room, the car, the dinner table, the edge of the bed—wherever—there must be a place where both parent and child and feel safe and secure in discussing feelings. We all have a need to feel safe—it is a core value shared by many. Children, however, have that need perhaps more strongly than any adult. In order to learn, experience, play, and practice compassion with others, it must be modeled and taught to them; they, too, must feel confident in doing so.
As a child who was bullied often at school as I grew up, it was common for me to feel anxious about going to school, not knowing if it’d be a good day or another day or ridicule and hurt. It was not unusual for my stomach to go into knots and for me to feel sick, wanting to stay home and not take the bus, go through school and recess and everything in-between. However, once the call had been made to the office saying I would not be there, all of the symptoms would, miraculously, inexplicably, vanish.
Watch for these signs, parents. Watch for unusual “ailments” which seem to “magically” clear up once your child feels safe and protected and at ease knowing they will not have to face whatever it is they are afraid of—be it bullies or ridicule or, for many—the sensitive kids, the empaths—simply an atmosphere of negativity. Again, provide a safe place for feelings to be openly discussed, experienced. Explored, and explained. Perhaps some quiet time away to soften the nerves might be best. Or, as Dr. Brene Brown would say, it may be best to practice “tolerating the distress.” In this sense, it may be beneficial to face that unpleasantness head-on, be okay with it, and know that, at day’s end, comfort and security await in a nurturing place.
Adults—and children—must be allowed to feel what they feel, express without judgement, and also voice opinions. What we, as parents, must instill—if not put a caveat on this with—is that any of these actions be done respectfully and with kindness. One person may disagree with another—perhaps very strongly. This is not the time—be it adult or child–to attack the other’s opposing view with aggression. We listen, we agree to disagree, we allow ourselves and our friends and family to feel safe and open in expressing themselves, and we move on. Do not dwell, do not linger, do not stew in the feelings. In the end, no matter the age, the response to someone’s commentary—even if it opposes our own—should not be a retort of “You’re wrong,” but an honest and truthful reply of, “Thank you for sharing.”
Andy Malinski, a regular contributor to Doula Spot as “The Dadvocate,” recently published his first book, a memoir of his journey to overcome debilitating panic attacks and anxiety, entitled The Last Great Innocent (https://www.amazon.com/Last-Great-Innocent-Darkness-Depression/dp/1535275715). He is a writer, speaker, and Level II Reiki Practitioner in Northern Colorado. He aspires to inspire others through Reiki and writing to “don their armor of light,” or Arma Lucis.