As progress continues on getting my book, Riding Shotgun, ready to publish I have been doing lots of edits with the help of friends who are helping me. David Holmes took on the edit of the first draft and made some very helpful recommendations. My dear friend of too many years to mention, Brian Blackstock, then suggested further refinements to draft two. I am now about ready to unleash draft three on someone else for review then will be ready to launch my Kickstarter campaign. I should also mention that a former colleague, Paul Hodgson, one of Canada's foremost book cover designers has agreed to take on designing the book. I am honoured.
While all of this has been going on I continue to be exposed to really good thinking and insight from folks living all over this world. Most recently, I came upon a brilliant piece by a new friend from beBee.com (BTW: check it out - it's a great new social media platform!). Emília M. Ludovino, Amsterdam-based, is an international Social & Emotional Intelligence Trainer, NLP Master Practitioner, Reiki Master/Teacher a lifetime practitioner of Mindfulness & Meditation, founder of the Ki Flow - Emotional Intelligence Training and The Emotional Intelligence Project. She holds an LLM Master in International Law and a degree in Psychology. She has been working as an Emotional Intelligence Trainer and Coach, at UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) and as an independent Trainer & Coach, worldwide, for Law Firms, Law Enforcement, Private Banking, NGOs, Hospitals, Schools, Entrepreneurs, etc. Previously, she worked as an International Lawyer for worldwide NGOs, European and African Governments and multinational companies.
She recently posted an article on beBee addressing how adults can address shocking news with children. It seemed relevant to me to share it here because one of the most difficult aspects of taking the cancer trek is determining what and how to talk to the children. Here's what Emilia writes:
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults. - F. Douglas
Children understand everything they hear and see around them.
Probably not with the way we adults perceive reality around us, but with their own unique way. And when the hear the news, the shocking-terrible newson the TV, they get the feeling that something bad is happening, or is going to happen (even if they don't understand the details of it). And they are scared. Terrified. Andthey don't feel safe anymore . Especially when they see their own parents feeling the same way, they feel helpless.
Children sometimes lack the perspective of their world around them.
They hear about something that happened in India while they live in Oslo, and they feel that this is happening ...next door.
They cannot understand how big is the world or how far from them is what happened.
They even think that if they move to another house, they will feel safe again.
Listen to their need: safety. Reassure them that you will protect them whatever happens. Remind them that there are always good people around us, not only people that want to hurt us.
Make sure you monitor their reactions when they hear the news. Even if they don't say much, they feel a lotand they imagine even more. For this reason, you should be the one that explains to them what happened. If you let them be informed by the TV, or other children, their imagination will go wild, and the effect will be overwhelming.
On the other hand, if you sit with them and talk about what happened, you can see what is their main focus and what aspects of the event concerns them more. Search for hidden questions.
At the same time, you have the opportunity to learn what they heard and how they feel about it.
Don't judge their feelings.
Don't dismiss their fears.
Accept and explore them .
It's OK to feel sad.
It's OK to feel scared.
It's OK to feel confused.
You are not expected to have a clear mind immediately after the shocking news.
You as a parent CAN be sad as well. Sad, but calm.
Children absorb all the emotions, so if you handle your sadness with a calm way, they will copy that. If on the other hand, you deal with your sadness or fear, with a dramatic, over-expressing, catastrophizing way, then the children will absorb that, and they will act likewise. But for them, once they get onto that "vehicle", it's difficult to step off it. They will dream about it, think about it, get overwhelmed about and probably it will remain inside them as a quite traumatic experience.
Let the feelings flow. You don't have to talk about it. Draw it. Sing it. Tell stories about it. Playing is the easiest way for children to let their thoughts and feelings come out. Use that tool, and make the most out of it. It will surprise you how much you can learn.
Respect their developmental level.
Young children don't need all the details of the terrible event. They only need to feel safe and secure again.
Teenagers, on the other hand, they are looking for the details, because they want to rationalize their feelings and make sense out of what happened. Even they don't ask for you to talk to them about the news, don't assume they are OK. Initiate a discussion. Adjust to their needs and help them accordingly. They will respect and appreciate that.
After all the talking and the sharing takes place (even though sometimes you will need to come back to that because the children will have more questions...), provide some kind of closure to the children.
Memorialize the lost people: make a drawing about that. Share stories. Light up candles and blow them, and at the same time blowing away the fear and the pain.
For bigger children, some action can be also therapeutic: help others , volunteer, keep routines. That way you remind them that life goes on.