This week, I find myself at a loss for words. I rarely have trouble sitting down and writing. Instead of writing or doing anything really, I’ve napped off and on. I wish I had written on schedule and produced a blog post on Monday for publication later in the week. If I had, then this post would have come more easily. Also, though, it would not have been on this topic. I had planned to give an overview of my new play therapy office that I’ve been busy setting up. On that topic, all I am going to say is that instead of purchasing the toy courtroom I have been wanting, I purchased a toy school.
I spent this past weekend with a dear friend from high school and three friends from college. We went to an outdoor concert to celebrate one of their birthdays. I cherished the weekend. I bottled up the precious moments of connection with friends I’ve known for 30 years now. I flew home late Sunday night. I felt so renewed and refreshed. I couldn’t wait to be with my family again and tell them about my latest adventure.
Then, Monday, one of my sons tested positive for covid. On Tuesday, two more sons tested positive. The remaining well one and I are isolated from the rest of the family. It’s been hard. But all the good and the bad over the last few days were overshadowed by the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Throughout the day Tuesday, I checked my phone to keep up with the worsening story of the unfolding tragedy as I finished setting up my play therapy space.
My youngest son, the well one, was with me. (I kept him home to monitor him for symptoms as I assumed he would eventually test positive like his brothers.) He drew pictures as I organized the art supplies. He told me how excited he was for me because he knew I couldn’t wait to have my own office again. He also told me how excited he was for the children and families I would be working with. “They need you, Mommy,” he said. “And now you get to help them.”
Little does he know, I thought to myself.
I’ve managed to keep the news off while I’ve been around him. Since he isn’t going to school, he hasn’t heard his friends talk about it either. When the time does come, which I am sure it will, I will be following the guidance offered here by the National Association of School Psychologists.
As a family, we tend to limit access to news simply because we don’t watch it at home. We sometimes listen to it on the radio, but mostly in the car.
When we do discuss current tragic events, we seek to:
- Follow the child’s lead.
- Answer questions honestly.
- Answer questions according to the child’s developmental stage.
- Validate their feelings.
Whenever I struggle to find the words or don’t have an answer, I may say:
- “I hear you. And I am having a hard time answering that question.”
- “I’m going to take some time to think about how I want to answer that.”
- “I don’t have an answer, let’s look for one together.”
- “I hear you saying (then reflect what you heard them say).”
This last one is important because sometimes children, like all of us, just want to know someone is there and listening. They want to know they matter. We communicate this by accepting all of them–their thinking and their feeling. And by allowing them to explore their own thinking and feeling with our curiosity and support.
We don’t need to have all the answers. We don’t need to have the right words. It’s important to model being OK with not knowing so we can model how to investigate to find answers that make sense to us. It’s important to be there with them as they are in their feelings and to share the essence of our feelings as well.
When I think of the three primary negative emotions, I might say:
- I feel scared sometimes that something bad will happen. And I know that it is unlikely. And I trust myself to handle what comes.
- I feel angry sometimes because adults aren’t doing a good enough job of protecting children. It’s our job to protect you. I understand your anger. I feel it too. It’s our responsibility to protect you.
- I feel sad at the loss of life. I can’t imagine losing you.
Most of our communication is nonverbal. Even without words, we can say a lot by:
- Putting down phones
- Avoiding distractions
- Making eye contact
- Gentle touch
- Getting on their eye level
- Aligning our bodies to theirs, turning to face them as they move around the room
- Mirroring them
- Breathing deeply, inviting them to do the same
- Truly listening and feeling the words that they say
By tuning in to our presence and their presence while children speak, we are fostering a right-brain to right-brain connection. We are communicating the most important things we can say: I see you. I hear you. You matter to me.