Tag Archives: tragedy

Oct ’19 Q&A – The Rise in Suicide: Can strong boundaries make a difference?

Q. There were recently two child suicides in neighboring towns to us in less than two weeks, one of them a 13 year old. How does this happen? How can I protect my tween from a similar fate? I am at a loss. What is happening in the world??

A. Too many children all over the country seem to be feeling so forsaken that ending their lives is the only answer. How does anyone, much less a child, come to this conclusion? I cannot presume to have the answer. What we are left with is the question: How do we protect our children from such devastating despair?

In 2017, the suicide rate for 15-19 year olds was up 47% from 2000, the highest level in two decades. This doesn’t include 13 year olds. Much of the rise has to do with increased drug use and the effects of social media. But the question must address more fundamental layers. Many young people can resist drug use or moderate it. All are subject to social media. Some have addictive tendencies that are more vulnerable to drug use and some are victims of cyber bullying. This is not the result of poor parenting.

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In Times of Tragedy…

time of tragedy

The nature of tragedy is that it is out of our control. Ultimately so is just about everything. The nature of parenting is the desire to maintain control. The irony is that in order to best handle times of tragedy and to best maintain influence over our children, we first need to let go of that desire to control.

Instead we tell them what to think and feel, what to say and do. Everything around us tells us that if we do this, take that, wear this and buy that, we will be happy. Rewards and punishments are the way we control and tell them how to be. This method raises our children to focus externally (what will happen to me if…? Or what will I get if…?). They often don’t know how to handle themselves without those external controls. Most of us have lost sight of what we already know — if we could trust ourselves to just listen.

In order to stay calm, do our best work, and have the greatest influence on those around us, we must stop trying to control others. Nobody likes a dictator. Children are no exception. In working with parents all over the world, I find that nothing is harder for parents to do than let go of control.

When tragedy strikes, we try to protect our children from worry and fear. When my daughter was four she was afraid of fire. One Sunday the house next door burned to the ground. My first instinct was to close the door of the room she was in to insure she did not see the fire. Immediately, I realized the futility, and so I carried her to the window to watch. She wanted to get as close as I would allow. She was mesmerized and asked lots of questions over days and months that I answered honestly. The experience helped her through and over her fear, to know it was not the end of the world. It helped her to feel less afraid.

Often our experience of tragedy comes from how those around us deal with it. My father died suddenly in the middle of the night when I was eleven. With all best intentions, my uncle hushed my crying with, “Now, now, Bonnie, none of that.” My mother remained stoic without a tear. She later had a nervous breakdown, and I learned the consequences of stuffing my feelings around tragedy. This is not the way I chose to bring up my children.

Letting go means trusting that our children are strong, capable and resilient. Resilience comes from experiencing all that we have inside us and getting to the other side of big intense feelings — not by denial, belittling, toughening up, or keeping secrets. Our children are capable of understanding truth. They don’t need details they cannot yet understand to feel assured by a parent’s willingness to tell the truth.

For children, tragedy is personal — losing a parent, friend, pet. A terrorist attack or mass deaths will not hit home unless they fear it will happen to them. Imagined tragedy can be as strong — a parent’s death, thunderstorms, a monster attack, a bad guy getting in the house. Whatever it is, children do better when they come face to face with the fear, have a parent’s calm support and understanding, and get through it — sometimes years later. The more calm and centered we are, the more we understand that we have no control of our children’s futures, fears and experiences. The more we understand our role as their guides along their own journeys, the more we can allow them experiences rich with feeling, often unpleasant, to be better prepared for the hard world.

TrustTrusting a child’s capabilities is hard for a parent who was not trusted as a child—a child who was told to listen to someone else, who was ruled by the carrot or the stick, or who was sheltered from the knocks of life. We lack trust in our children to the degree we worry and fear for their safety and healthy development and to the degree we fear lack of control over them.

Your trust is like a constant flow of antioxidants into your children’s veins—trust that your child knows right from wrong; trust that expression of his feelings will never hurt anyone (but bottled up emotions can), trust that he can make good decisions and wants to succeed; trust that sometimes he knows better than you what is right for him, and trust that he will make mistakes, sometimes big ones, which he will learn from when he has your trust that it was indeed a mistake.

Model honesty
Be honest with your children. Don’t try to hide or deny what you know they have been touched by. Keep TV news off in front of young children but do not dismiss or belittle anything they ask or express. Fears will only expand when you dismiss a worried child with, “There’s nothing to worry about.” When your child asks questions or exhibits concerning behavior at a time of stress in the world or in your family, talking about it with facts and assurances will help.

Grow and develop along with your children
If you have used reward and punishment methods to control your young child, your influence and limits will be ignored in the teen years. Influence and limits will remain strong when you give your children more and more responsibilities and freedom to make their own choices and direct their own lives. This requires connection and trust.

Letting go of control and parenting with acceptance, understanding, support, and guidance keeps your influence primary. Control turns them away to find authority among their peers. Your influence and values will always be their rock when life throws the unexpected their way. read more

In Time of Tragedy, Look to Yourself First

Another tragedy has hit the airwaves and the school hallways. Again the question is raised, “What do I tell my kids?” I addressed this question the best I could—who can ever answer this well?—in my blog, “Look for the Helpers” after Sandy Hook.

This time I want to look at a different angle—one that may hit home a bit more.

When a crisis happens, we naturally express and project our feelings, make assumptions about our children’s experience, and react or respond accordingly. The first question to consider is, “How do you feel in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings?”

Most parents want their children to grow up able to trust most people and trust the world they are growing into—with discernment and good judgment. It seems to be getting harder and harder to trust our world, so how do we teach our children to trust—or should we?

We want our children to reach their potential, to get the most out of their lives, to experience all they can for their fulfillment and satisfaction. We want them to have open doors in front of them to walk through. Most of all, we want them to feel self-confident—the #1 key to successful living. Can they get there if we hold them back because we are afraid?


Questions to ask yourself:

Am I keeping my children closer and closer with every tragedy?

How will my children view their world if their model doesn’t trust it?

What purpose does my fear serve? How safe can I make them when I hold them back?

Am I changing my rules about what is okay for my children to do and experience based on my fear?


How to insure that your children don’t live out your fears:

  • Make sure you own your fear and express your concerns to your child as just that—yours.
  • Share your fears and worries with a partner or close friend.
  • Stick to a few facts when telling your child about tragedy—if your child will inevitably learn about it. Keep media to a bare minimum.
  • Watch your child’s behavior to signal how he is dealing with it rather than assuming he will feel afraid.
  • If behavior shows increased anxiety, make sure to allow for feelings to be expressed. If behavior is different, but emotions are held, insure as many times of relaxed, downtime as possible. If you are highly anxious, your child will know it and may keep his own anxiety from you. Be sure someone close to him can handle his feelings.

Do you want your children to face the world each day afraid of what could happen or prepared to deal with whatever problem might arise? If you don’t allow independence because of your fear, your children won’t learn how to handle difficult situations.


To raise a problem-solver:

  • Engage your child in thinking through how she might handle a problem rather than imposing how you would handle it.
  • Encourage you child to speak up for herself, say “no” when she doesn’t want what is being offered or pressured, be aggressive when called for. That means allowing young children to say “no” to you when they don’t like something you have said or done.
  • Teach your children how to walk down the street with confidence. Encourage self-defense programs and body language awareness.
  • Allow your children to experience situations in which to solve problems.
  • When children express distress over happenings in their lives, ask what they might like to do to take action. Ask, “What can you do to change that?” Even if nothing can be done, allow expression of anger or outrage.
  • Focus on the good and look for the heroic stories to tell your children. For instance, Bostonians opened their homes for meals, couches and beds for those stranded at the airport. Many ran to the scene to help those hurt.
  • Ask, “What do you think you would have done if you had been there?”
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    Mass Killings: When Do We Talk about Parenting?

    Perhaps the only silver lining to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary is emerging conversations and, hopefully, policy changes for gun control and mental illness. Both are in dire need of a relook and a revision, even though neither is likely to eradicate mass shootings.

    But what about emotional illness, which affects so many more of us? Children are not born with emotional problems, which are rooted in feeling isolated, unimportant, misunderstood, victimized, holier than thou, etc. Children with emotional problems are the victims of the influence of parents, teachers, peers—anyone who is critical in the daily life of the child. Most of these problems can be healed through parenting.

    Parents, wounded themselves in their pasts, unknowingly pass on their unexamined wounds to their children—wounds that come from perceptions of a child’s mind (“I’m not good enough”, “I can’t ever be who my parents expect”, “Nobody likes me“, I’m a trouble-maker”, etc.). These thoughts grow into beliefs that influence behavior if not understood and addressed.

    The culprit? The same child rearing techniques we have been using from time immemorial—punishments, threats, isolation, bullying, name-calling, arbitrary consequences—all used to get children to do a parent’s bidding. These coercive techniques have left us with a society of the walking wounded. Yet we keep doing the same old thing expecting different results.

    When the messages generate from outside the family, capable parents can help their children through difficult, even traumatic, situations. First parents must be able to interpret abhorrent behavior as a signal that the child is having a problem, not being a problem.

    With that perceptual shift, parents are better able to acknowledge the pain their child is experiencing without belittling it or denying it. Once the child feels understood, problem-solving strategies can help empower the child.

    This is a complicated process, one that requires self-reflection, healing, shifting the parenting mindset and learning new skills. But parents believe they should know how to raise their children. They don’t want to examine themselves, and they don’t want to “air their dirty laundry”.

    As much as we need to raise the level of attention and care for our mentally ill, we need to take care of our children, our future, by reducing the stigma that parent education is for “bad” parents. Parents have become extremely sensitive to being blamed. It needs to be made loud and clear that no one is to blame but our parenting culture—the culture that tells us we’re supposed to know how to do it and do it alone, without help, sometimes without even one partner—much less a whole village.

    As long as the parenting culture tells us to reward behavior we like and punish behavior we don’t, our children are vulnerable to mistaken identities. I am in no way suggesting that the parents of killers could have stopped the killings. I am suggesting that parent education available and taken advantage of by all could change our society dramatically.

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    Look for the Helpers

    What should we say to our children in the wake of this horrific school shooting? How can we ease their fears and answer their questions, not to mention ours? We look for the right thing to say just as we look for the motive of the killer—to make it all make sense, fix what needs fixing, feel better and move on. This tragedy is the worst yet—mainly because I don’t think we can ever again promise our children that they will be safe and believe it in our hearts to be true.

    There is an abundance of advice on the internet, but the most helpful I have seen is words from Mr. Rogers.

    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” Fred Rogers

    Our faith can rest assured that this is true. From the parents and families of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School to the school children and their families all over the world who have been cut to the bone by this disaster—we must all know there are helpers among us and around us.

    You are your child’s helper but not the only one. A helper does not have to have the right answers. You can’t, because no one has them. Do for your child what you would like a helper do for you. Listen, understand their confusion and fear, their questioning, their possible and sudden abhorrent behaviors. Be patient, be kind, be compassionate. And that starts by having compassion for yourselves.

    Watch when you dip into fear of hopelessness, of inadequacy to protect your children forever and ever, of not knowing how to answer your children’s questions, of not being able to fix this. Go to your helpers—family members, friends, professionals who show compassion for your worries and fears and don’t tell you there’s nothing to worry about.

    When you can off-load your fears, you become calmer. It is your calmness and confidence that your children need more than anything to feel safe. Not confidence that nothing will ever happen to you—confidence in your family’s strong relationships and solid home base, confidence that your children feel loved, important, and heard.

    The answer does not lie in having the right answer. It lies in your relationship, your genuine caring, your sincere empathy. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be sure you have a shoulder to cry on, to scream into, to dump your fears on. Get out your angst with an adult so you can respond calmly with your children.
  • Pay close attention to your children, watch for unusual behavior, problems sleeping or eating.
  • Listen quietly and calmly to their questions and worries and do not allow your inability to assuage their fears to fuel impatience and anger.
  • There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know.” Do not think you have to make it make sense for your child. Don’t project your needs on your child.
  • Never tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of. Never belittle what feels important to them.
  • Repair any morning arguments you have with a hug and an “I love you more than anything in life” before they leave for school.
  • Ask your children if they know who their helpers are at school. Make sure they do.
  • Point out helpers as you go through the day. “There’s someone you can always go to if anything were to happen.”
  • When you go to crowded places with your children, make sure you always pick out a meeting place just in case you get separated.
  • Make a list with your child of all the good, caring people your child knows—at school, home, stores, including police and firemen.
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