Parents – Small, But Meaningful Gestures

Yesterday, our initial responses as parents were to cry, hold our children just a little closer, feel the gut-wrenching empathy for parents in Connecticut, and begin to pose the questions about how to prevent this senseless horror from happening again.  In the last 24 hours, we have just started to see the initial calls for increased gun control, better access to mental health services, and a second look at security in our children’s schools.  No doubt, these are critical topics that must be addressed.  Although I will contemplate how I might get involved in these societal efforts, I am mindful of the small ways I can make a difference in my parenting and as a friend to other children.

As parents we will make sure we are available to talk to our kids if they have questions about the events of yesterday.  After you address their fears, concerns and questions about why someone would do something like this, and ways you will you keep them safe, we encourage you to move beyond this stage and start incorporating a practice into your everyday life that just might make the difference in the life of a child someday.

Some initial suggestions:

1) Be observant, caring, and show concern.  Everyone.  Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, neighbors.  Children vary in their demeanor—from the more social and outgoing type to children who are introverted and seem to prefer to be by themselves.  Take a minute to reach out to all kids and talk to them about their day.

2) Stay connected with your children.  In the few moments you have waiting at a red light, sitting in the waiting room waiting for a doctor’s appointment with your child, or watching your child at an extracurricular activity, stay “connected” to your child with your gift of attention.  They notice and those golden moments of the gift of time we give our kids make all the difference.  They are more important than our texts and Facebook posts.  Likewise, turn off kids’ video screens in the cars and encourage them to put their phones down, too.  For some kids and teenagers, car talks are the best kind—a “car talk” takes less eye contact and your kids have no choice but to listen to you because they are held captive in the car!

3) Encourage your child to also disconnect from social media and cell phones.  Remember family time in the evening, family dinners, ignoring phone calls during dinner.

4) During play dates, rely less on video games to entertain your kids.  Get them outside to play.  Join them from time to time (especially if they are younger) to be available and just hear the kinds of things they are talking about.

5) Volunteer with your child.  Even the smallest of gestures can do so much in the growth and development of a child.  Volunteering is a time for children to experience what it feels like to express empathy and compassion for others and begin to think about others less fortunate than them.  It instills that we all need to be mindful of others and that we all play a special part in taking care of people in our society.  Plus, it’s another way to spend quality time with your kids.  Oftentimes, it doesn’t require money to volunteer, just your gift of time.

Notice any changes in your child.  If they are more quiet, sleep or appetite habits are changing, school is more challenging for them—any changes at all that make you wonder—seek a mental health consultation.  Please do not wait to seek help.  It is much easier to treat mental health problems in the early stages rather than later.  More severe side effects are avoided with early intervention.  It’s just like when your child has a fever for 3-4 days, it may likely just be a virus, but most of us will get it checked out just to be sure it doesn’t require antibiotics.  Treat mental health issues the same way!