Our family has gone through quite a few of life’s hardest times. In one year, we had six tropical storms and hurricanes, a major flood, and we lost our sole income unexpectedly. Today, the entire world is going through an uncertain time.
none of us escape trials, but children are resilient
No matter who you are, you will go through a fiery trial eventually. Your trial may be personal, similar to mine, or through the loss of a family member. Or perhaps your trial is not quite as personal, but still difficult, as when all of America went through 9/11. Today, we’re all in it as we’re uncertain about the outcome of the current virus pandemic.
While I was more than a bit shaken after our terrible year, our four children acted as if nothing unusual had happened! We did a few things to help them make it through that time.
here is how we helped our children cope through a hard time
note: I jotted down some of these notes when our kids were different ages, so their ages below may not reflect our current reality
Turn off the news and set down the phone (ouch). The news makes things scarier. Turn it off now and then, so you can view life through your own eyes rather than through the news anchor or the news feed. When Hurricane Katrina was barreling down on our Coast, I needed to listen to the news for weather updates. For a few hours, I watched on the family television. Eventually, I noticed how upset my tummy was, how the children were arguing constantly, and how fussy our two-year-old was. I turned off the television and moved to the kitchen, where I could listen on the radio. I baked cookies and grilled chicken breasts in preparation for a possible hurricane landfall while the kids played in another room. Soon, all of us were much calmer.
Let them be near you. Have you heard the country song that says, “Let them be little. Let them sleep in the middle”? Just this once, let them do that! Let them be near you as you do laundry or cook. Give them little jobs to do that are right by your side. It helps them to see mama act normal, doing normal everyday things. Being near you helps them feel needed and helpful.
Look for ways to help out. Since that time, when a tragic event happens, I gather information through online news, then sit down with the children to talk about what happened. I usually add, “this happened very far away,” because a small child does not realize the world is large. I reassure them of their safety, and we pray together for those affected. When possible, we brainstorm ways we can help ease the pain of those involved – through a craft project, by mailing a hand-made card, or through physically helping during local hurricanes & tornadoes. In the current crisis, we could help the elderly – perhaps through the windows of a nursing home.
Live in the present. When 9/11 happened, I, like much of America, was glued to our television. Around the third day after the event, our little boy, whom I thought wasn’t paying much attention, asked, “Why does that airplane keep crashing into that building?” I looked at him with my full attention for the first time in days. And at that moment I realized – I wasn’t living in my present. I was taking care of our family’s basic needs, but I wasn’t really living. Knowing I could do nothing for those affected, but I could do much for my family, I turned off the television and began living in the present again.
Create a simple routine. You may be tempted to just let the children go through the days without their usual chores or routines, but I cannot express the need for normalcy strongly enough. Have the children keep up with their regular morning routine and their normal chores. If nothing else, be sure they have their usual bedtime ritual.
Have a conversation: Talk about what is happening, in a calm and casual way. Our five-year-old asks many questions when life is bumpy. Recently, he wanted to know if we were going to die like Great-Grandma who has cancer. I let him ask his questions about Great-Grandma, and I answered him honestly but simply, without sugar-coating the facts. I also let him know that although cancer is possible, it is not likely that one of us will get cancer soon, and that it is also not likely that we will die soon. Great-Grandma is very, very old, I told him. We are not nearly that old.
Schoolwork has its uses. Your kids have to fill their day with something, so why not let it be school? Even if the kids are not attending school during the trial, hand them a few school-type papers or let them do something creative. In the middle of Hurricane Dennis, our kids made lap books, which are handmade books created out of manila folders with glue and magazine or catalog cutouts. We didn’t have electricity for several days, so they couldn’t research on the Internet. That turned out to be a good thing, as it taught the children to use books and magazine pictures along with their imaginations.
Pray with your children. But don’t over-emphasize the trial in your prayer. Pray for the trial along with the dog’s fleas, the lost shoe, and the vegetables in the garden. With older children, you’ll want to pray longer and more seriously, but with young children, make it a quick, simple prayer.
Your children may carry with them a few worries or fears from the trial, but you can easily dispel those. Just this morning, three months after the last hurricane, our five-year-old asked if we will have a hurricane today. He saw dark rain clouds in the sky. I let him ask his questions, then I said with confidence, “No, there isn’t a hurricane in the Gulf today. Those are just clouds. Will you please give this food to the baby chicks?” With reassurance and a new chore, he headed off to feed the baby chickens.
Remember, children rebound faster than we think possible. You will likely take longer to rebound, so take care of yourself, too!