Tangled- Parents as First Responders
Concerned about child abductions, cyber bullying, gangs, and mind altering substances– today parents are concerned. Rightly so.
The playground has gotten bigger….and it’s all inclusive. The internet is a web that entices and captures. The lure of social media satisfies two human needs: curiosity and belonging. Kids still want the very same thing we wanted on the jungle gym. A bar to grab and a place to hang.
The goals haven’t changed only the methods to achieve them.
Awareness can be the ticket to despair. Social media can be the glue that binds or a pie in the face. A relentless slideshow of images, tweets and videos viewed by many as evidence of the green grass elsewhere.
Parents are first responders. Like soldiers in foreign lands, we don’t always know who the enemy is or when the next drama bomb will go off.
All parents need to learn CPR: Care. Protect. Respond. Here’s some tips to help comfort and guide your children during crisis.
Take your children’s serious distress seriously.
Show sympathy based on how the child feels not on how you think they should feel. Feelings of rejection, anxiety, and anger can turn serious. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death of youth ages 10 to 24. (Alarming stats here). Teach coping mechanisms in the home to avoid pursuit of destructive methods of stress relief shared on the all inclusive “playground”.
Learn your child’s triggers and thresholds.
Is your child a “go with the flow” kinda kid or a drama queen? “It’s no big deal” and “Everything’s fine” are not reliable testimony. Check in with the queen of drama during neutral times when it’s easier to gauge fact from fiction. Look for “pop ups”- those new behaviors or associations that are outside their norm.
Kids can be moody and mouthy one minute and charming and helpful the next. Don’t count on others to notice if something’s wrong.
Attention is the most critical aspect of caring.
Giving neutral attention to your child is the best relationship building strategy. Neither positive or negative, simply being there to listen to their favorite song, hear about the latest trend, take a walk or cook a meal together. Or just plop down on their bed and wait for a response. Your quiet presence or random conversation is a welcome relief to teens. You don’t want anything and they aren’t in trouble.
Any child who is bullied requires direct or indirect help from a parent.
Bullies test the waters quickly, eye their victims, and escalate cruelty. Empower your child to teach others how to treat them. If your child is being bullied, be his ally. Co-pilot the situation until it is resolved.
The most underreported bullying occurs right under our noses. Sibling abuse is a serious problem, often ignored and dismissed by parents. Adopt a zero tolerance policy.
Do not aim to be the “cool” parent.
Parents who want to be seen as “cool” by their children’s peers allow alcohol in their home, bend rules that weren’t in place anyway, and feel validated because kids want to hang out at their house.
It is a parent’s job to set boundaries and provide a safe haven. If your claim to fame is the coolest mom or dad on the block, I’d be concerned if you were providing either.
The best reward is freedom at any age.
Don’t let your own anxiety stifle well deserved freedom. Overprotective parents don’t let their children use wings they’ve earned. This can cause even the most gracious teenager to rebel.
Freedom is leverage. But you have to give it to use it.
Your reactions are “on the spot” life lessons.
We pass down patterns of reactions through generations. Our family of origin becomes a blueprint. We’re not born with short tempers, we learn them. How we respond to unfairness, failure, and even grief, imprints on our kids. Since life is a bed of roses, we must model how to react to the thorns.
First acknowledge your child’s feelings.
They have a right to feel what they feel. If you couldn’t stand the guy that just broke your daughter’s heart, it’s best to say, “I know he meant a lot to you.” As opposed to “He didn’t deserve you and you’re better off without him.”
React as an adult.
You can show sympathy without reacting in the same manner as your child. If your child is angry or hurt because she wasn’t invited to a party, it doesn’t help to mirror her response. Don’t fuel the fire. Acknowledge it’s there and subdue the flames.
Offer guidance and perspective.
The best cure for crisis is competence.
True if you’re having a heart attack, you’re overspent on your credit cards, or your child is dateless for the prom. When you’re out of control, you want someone around you who is in control.
Be that rock for your children even if you aren’t sure of the answer or don’t have the perfect words of wisdom at the tip of your tongue. Don’t hesitate to say calmly, “I’m not sure of the solution yet but I am sure we’ll figure it out.”
We can kiss our toddler’s boo-boo when he scrapes his knee. But we can’t be our daughter’s date to the dance. Kick the field goal or reverse a callous tweet.
As a first responder, we need to be ready to provide esteem saving CPR at a moments notice. No need to hover, overprotect, or control. Just remain in their orbit. Ready and willing to lend experience, bestow faith, and shine light on darkness.
Calmly spoken, “Everything is going to be ok,” is the best bandage and words your children will never outgrow.