Big things and little people

When I was a little girl …’some very bad men stole a big plane over the ocean and turned the men on it into hostages”, at least, that’s what I understood at the time. About that same time, my parents were supposed to fly in a big plane over the ocean as well. I was a wreck. I was certain the bad men were going to ‘make hostages out’ of my parents too.

As parents, it is important for us to ‘see’ from our children’s eyes what the media reports and stories may look and sound like to them. During the hostage crisis, I was in elementary school. Everything was in close proximity to us in my young mind. Oceans most certainly must be just beyond grandmas, the bad men were from a local jail and any airplane could be next. In my mind and at my age everything was close and everything was possible. I had no concept of the distance between the United States and Iran. I had understanding of military intervention or hostage negotiations. All I knew is that my parents were going away on a plane and I DIDN’T LIKE IT.

It was a tough week while my parents were gone.  I remember it vividly even though it’s been several decades. Everyone once in awhile my elementary age daughter will see or hear something on the news and ask a general question. I make myself stop and listen for what she’s really asking, “Could that happen to me? Is that happening close to us? Are they coming to our town next?”  Even though she isn’t ASKING those questions out loud it is very possible she could be thinking them. My role as a parent is to listen for the un-asked question, search out the underlying fear and determine what she really needs to know.

Our children are hearing the news. Are we listening to their questions?

What have your children asked about the various ‘big topics’ on the news?  What insight could you share with us about your response?

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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I’m Scared

Lori’s daughter was scared of costumed characters. I’m not fond of heights or water. Halloween costumes, TV characters, new experiences, the unknown. Any or all of these can scare a child. Being scared or having fears does not magically disappear as children grow into their teen years. And as adults we still have our share of fears.

However, children think differently from adults. Preschoolers and younger little ones can’t separate fantasy from the real world. School-agers can distinguish between fantasy and reality but may have trouble interpreting more subtle messages. Adults “get” the difference but that doesn’t always help.

So what to do – how do we help our children (and maybe each other) handle fears. Well to begin with, our fears depend on past experiences, imagination, and our general level of anxiety.

Don’t make fun of your child’s fears and try not to give lectures. Telling me there’s no reason to be scared of heights doesn’t make me feel any better. I still don’t like them. Accept fears as valid. Be supportive of your child with a matter-of-fact attitude and reassuring words. As a child gets older she will have a better understanding of cause and effect, reality and fantasy. And she is likely to have more experience with whatever is causing the fear. For example I’ve had many years of coming across heights and don’t get nearly as anxious.

Help your child learn some coping skills. In my case, I know to take deep breaths when I get into situations involving heights. Sometimes I can avoid the issue altogether. That’s an ok way to cope. So is picturing myself confidently crossing a tall bridge. Forcing your child into whatever scares him is probably not a good idea. That may just make things worse.

Comfort and common sense are two tools to put to use when dealing with fears – for children of all ages and adults too!

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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