by Marsha Rakestraw
One of our most primal instincts as parents is to protect our children from harm, whether physical or psychological.
But there’s no denying that we’ve “gifted” our children with a world full of global challenges.
How can we share challenging issues and information in ways that empower and inform, rather than traumatize and disempower?
Here are a few tips:
- With younger children, focus more on nurturing reverence and connection with people, animals, and the natural world and avoid exposing young children to traumatic global problems.
Children who have developed a love and concern for others and the natural world will be more likely to take positive action when they’re older.Spend plenty of time in nature and connecting with other people and animals. Read books and share experiences full of beauty, compassion, goodness, diversity, and inclusiveness.And be careful what kinds of conversations you have in front of them. If you talk about global issues, focus on solutions, rather than your own despair or anger.
- Use appropriate children’s literature as a springboard for discussion.
Stories are a wonderful teaching tool and can help introduce important and challenging topics in ways that are easier to understand and less frightening, as well as offer examples of ordinary heroism in action.There are a variety of resources for finding such children’s books, including in our Resource Center.
- Always be truthful (provide accurate information), but use age-appropriate language and level of detail.
You can help prepare yourself for these conversations by educating yourself about global issues and learning about what’s already being done.Additionally, be sure what you’re sharing is age-appropriate. Director of Education, Mary Pat Champeau, shared a learning experience about trying to educate her own young children: “As a result of my campaign to open their eyes (utterly prematurely) my daughter wrote a book called Why Are We So Stupid? about how the world would be better off without people and maybe we should kill them off (!); and my son became an insomniac because the images of animals being caught in traps and skinned for ear muffs…haunted his sleep. Needless to say, this was not the desired consequence.”
- Help your child find positive solutions that s/he can take part in.
Even from an early age, children can be involved in helping others and solving problems.Spending time on solutions as a family is good for both your family and the causes you care about. It’s also important to emphasize that some solutions can take a long time, and that there are many other people working on these issues. Perhaps you can seek out some of these other changemakers to connect with and learn more.
- Listen. Ask questions. Reassure.
Sometimes the most important thing you can do is just be there to listen and ask questions. Children who feel safe and heard are better able to cope with challenges and become positive problem solvers.
- Don’t underestimate the resiliency, creativity, and passion of children of any age.
There are countless stories in the news about kindergarteners raising money for causes, and elementary-aged students starting their own organizations. Children are amazing, creative solutionaries when given the freedom and support to pursue their passions.
- Pay attention if your child is particularly sensitive and begins to feel disempowered, despairing, or depressed.
If this happens, focus on sharing more about heroic, joyful change agents than on troubles in the world. There are numerous youth and adult solutionaries who can serve as inspiring role models.
- Be a role model yourself.
Parents are their children’s first teachers. When they see you asking questions and seeking information about global issues and modeling calm, confident, compassionate citizenship, they’ll learn to do the same.
There is no one right age to start talking about these issues with your children. Carefully monitor their questions and note their reactions when they’re exposed to global challenges. Our youth are confronted with violence and cruelty at younger ages, so it may be sooner than you think.
As activist and founder of Free the Children, Craig Kielberger, mentions, though we want to protect our children, it IS important that we mindfully explore these issues with them. As he says,
“… by not being exposed to these kinds of situations, children may feel untouched or unaffected – and therefore not feel the need to act.”
The key is to help them feel safe and empowered.
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