Dr. Kevin Leman, internationally-known psychologist, radio and television personality, and New York Times best-selling author, graciously shared his time and profound wisdom to provide LightWorkers with advice and insight regarding trauma–how to respond, the media’s impact and ways to encourage your child in an effective, healthy manner.
The truth is, we are living in a time when school shootings are not unheard of, bullying is prevalent and childhood traumas are on the rise. In today’s society, sadly, we (as parents) must be aware of potential traumas, increase our sense of awareness and prepare ourselves for the uncomfortable topics of discussion among our children. In spite of these travesties, there are ways to convey warmth, support and comfort for children who have experienced trauma in addition to ways to educate our children on the realities of the world without scaring them or instilling fear into their hearts.
Dr. Leman explored various verbal and nonverbal ways parents can support their children, beginning with a gesture as simple as a hug to looking your child in the eyes, sharing a huge, genuine smile and saying, “If I was in your shoes, I would feel the exact same way.” Identifying with your child’s hurt, acknowledging their feelings, empowers your child to know that “I have your back,” according to Dr. Leman, and although we should aim to support and comfort our children, there is a hidden danger in creating an environment that only seeks to comfort and shelter. Dr. Leman shares the delicate line regarding this topic because parenting can easily cross over to coddling and sheltering, both of which Dr. Leman does not advise.
A happy child is a healthy child, but a healthy child must sometimes be an unhappy child, too.
There are young kids that we do things for that they can do themselves. Ask yourself—are you raising your kids in a home or a hotel? Are you providing room services, food service and taking care of everything instead of instilling responsibility? You want your child to experience life for themselves, without being waited on, hand and foot.
As we raise our children to face the ways of the world, good and bad, we must understand that “a happy child is a healthy child, but a healthy child must sometimes be an unhappy child, too,” and with explaining the ways of the world comes unhappiness. Nevertheless, there are tactful, productive ways to explain that bad things happen in this world. For instance, in the event of a natural disaster or catastrophic environmental change, “Be proactive with your child in the instance of, say, a hurricane. ‘I think I’m going to call the Red Cross. Do you know what the Red Cross does for others? They help people in need when someone loses their home in a flood or storm.’”
Involve your child.
There is always a way to show your child the ills of the world without instilling fear. After all, “they are going to take cues from you, the parent. How you react and respond is what they will take from you. If you stay calm and do not panic, they will mirror the same response in times of turmoil.”
Dr. Leman thoughtfully suggests taking the fear out of kids’ minds when explaining deeper tragedies such as shootings or bombings.
When kids hear about shootings or see tragedy in, say, California, yet they live in New York, 2,000 miles away, you must break this down to your child in a way that they will understand because once they see this tragedy on television or hear about it on the radio, the situation becomes very real for them, and then comes their fear: Say something along the lines of, “Honey, that happened 2,000 miles away. We would have to drive for four days to reach that place.” A simple statement such as that takes fear out of their minds because they understand that not everything is in their backyard and not every problem is within their reach.
So, in essence, it’s not so much about the trauma itself but how you respond to the trauma and how you express your reaction and respective information to your child.
“You can’t bubble wrap your children,” explains Dr. Leman.
Find something positive to say about how your child handles stress, negativity and trauma, even if your share something as small as saying, “I’m proud you took that action” or “I’m proud how you handled that.” That is called “Vitamin E,” “E” for “encouragement,” Dr. Leman explains.
Ultimately, parents must remember that they are the authority over their children, and consistency will provide children with a means to healthfully handle negative situations: “Listen without judgment. Let your children feel like they live in a home where they can speak their mind and share their feelings,” Dr. Leman stated, all of which is advice children can take well into adulthood.