As a child growing up, I do not recall feeling unsafe in the world around me. But, that was a different time. Children today not only face big, scary issues but because of television and social media it seems to be more in their face. So how can we, as the protectors, instill a sense of safety in our children in an unsafe world?
Recognize that children pick up on tragedy. Infants and young toddlers may not know exactly what is going on, but they sense unrest. From infant to teen (and early adulthood), children do not have the mental capacity to sort through their feelings and they don’t have the verbal capacity to help us understand what is going on is important.
Pay attention to the clues they give us. This is probably one of the toughest parts of the parent or nanny relationship. We are juggling our own life issues, work, relationships, our own feelings and thoughts and yet we must watch our kids for signs of emotional distress. Then we need to help them process through it. For younger children, are they suddenly clingy? Emotional (either crying or sudden outbursts)? Has their appetite changed? Have they gone from sleeping all night to waking up and increased restlessness or even nightmares? Are they suddenly having issues with bedwetting? For older children, are they isolating in their rooms, starting to act recklessly or with inappropriate behaviors? These are all signs that it is time to check in with our kids and help them process what they are feeling.
Teach them how to describe what they are feeling. Help children of all ages to use their feeling words. Are they angry? Sad? Afraid? Tense? Help them figure out how to put a label on what they are feeling. As they begin to connect a word to what they feel, then it becomes less overwhelming for them.
Keep Their Routines as much as possible. Whether facing a national news event, or a change in their own family, children need routines. This is one of the foundations of creating that sense of safety and security children need from birth. When their little bodies have consistent routines they know that they will be fed, they will be cleaned up, they will sleep. As children grow the security that they get from knowing that each day will look very similar to the day before actually creates safety for them. When a sudden surprise comes along, it does not rip the rug out from under them completely because they know that their routines are still in place. It also arms them with the knowledge that the adults that they trust in their life are still in control. So eat at the same times, follow the same daily routines as much as possible.
Meet their individual needs. Some children need lots of hugs and touch. Some children need to talk about stuff to process their thoughts. Some children just need to spend time with you doing anything, just to know you are near. Pay attention to what causes your child to have the most relaxed body and face, that is your indicator of how they need your love and attention.
We cannot put our children in a bubble, as much as we would like too. We can however help them to feel as safe as possible as they learn to handle the rough parts of life in our world.