We’ve all read about it and heard about it in the news. In 2016 the number of opioid overdose deaths in the United States topped 63,000. Not only does this number surpass the total killed by car accidents and firearms, it also surpasses the number of Americans who were killed in the 19 years of the Vietnam War. This epidemic has impacted the entire fabric of American life. Many who have died are young people and adults with children. So how do we talk about overdose death with children? What words should we use? How do we address a topic that brings up complicated feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, blame, worry, isolation, and anguish, as well as the big “why” questions and the desire to protect those we love?
I’m often asked by parents how they can help their children to be more resilient and less vulnerable to mental health problems. Although we can’t stop all mental health problems, we can help children and young people to develop habits that build their wellbeing and resilience. But, these habits can’t exist on their own. They need to grow out of strong, supportive, nurturing relationships that children can develop with their parents, caregivers and teachers.
Being the parent of an 11- and 13-year-old, I am shocked at the number of families we know that have a parent with a life-threatening illness. When I was growing up, I don’t remember hearing of friends or classmates who had to handle these types of family challenges or stresses.
We talk often about the rules we should be setting for our children around their use of technology and social media, but here’s the rub – the way we as parents use technology can affect our children as much as their use of technology affects them. Rules around technology usage in families can be a source of angst for both parents and kids. Even when rules are agreed on, enforcing them can bring as much joy into the household as a three-day old temper.
As parents, we often spend a lot of time worrying about how we look to our children, and questioning if we are making a good impression. It’s so easy to beat ourselves up about our behavior and parenting decisions, but in the moment of seriously losing my cool, I found true understanding and empathy from my daughter. I learned, once again, that I am only human and so rather than focus on the perfect image, I better figure out how to make the most of my temper tantrums.
Envision a scenario with your child in a public place, behaving in a way that is not acceptable. Now consider your standard response to his or her poor behavior(s) as you look around and see the disapproving expressions of others. While struggling to keep the onset of rage unnoticeable, the reactions of common strangers can sometimes be the breaking point.
Whether the term ‘highly sensitive’ is brand new to you or not, there’s no doubt about it: there is a growing number of sensitive children out there, and parenting and communicating with them, for most, can be a challenge.
It’s often the way that the things we would like to change about ourselves (like anxiety) often have strengths built into them. Here are some of yours. (And don’t worry, the good things about you are here to stay – they won’t change when your anxiety does.)
We humans are meaning makers. We are storytellers at heart. It’s how we make sense of each other, our world, and most importantly, ourselves. But big feelings can hijack our stories. When anxiety drives the story, it tells tales of deficiency and lacking, and puts avoidance where courage should be - but we can change that.
When we get a feeling, we are driven to make sense of it. Anxiety feels awful. It’s meant to. It compels us to listen to, and act on, its story: ‘This is unsafe and you need to act.’ This is how it keeps us safe. When there is no obvious threat, it is understandable that the story that children (or any of us) might put to the feeling is, ‘I feel as though something bad is going to happen, so something bad must be going to happen.’ .
This is when anxiety grows teeth. It assumes a power it doesn’t deserve, and drive a response that holds brave hearts back. .
To change the response, we have to change the story. First, we validate, because that lets them feel us beside them. ‘I can see how worried you are about going to school. It makes so much sense that you want to stay home. I’d want to stay home too if I felt like that.’
Then, to change how the story ends, we change how it begins. ‘Anxiety feels awful. It’s meant to - it’s how it keeps you safe from things that are actually dangerous, like dark alleys. But here’s the secret to doing hard things: Anxiety doesn’t only happen when something is dangerous. It also happens when there is something important or meaningful you need to do, like school or trying something new. It happens when you’re about to be brave. This is when you have a decision to make. Is this a time to stay safe, or is this a time to be brave?’
Then, we align with the part of them - and it’s always in them - that wants to be brave and knows they can be. It might be the tiniest whisper, or threadbare, or wilted by anxiety, but it will be there. .
Our job as their important people is to usher that brave part of them into the light, so they can start to feel it too. ‘You have done brave things before my darling, and I know you can do this. I know it with everything in me.’...