Gun Violence, Safety, and Support for Families
This is the fourth in our series on Gun Violence. The previous episodes are: (1) Listening to Understand, (2) Gun Violence as a Collective Trauma,http://consciouslyparenting.com/podcast-episode-35-gun-violence-collective-trauma/ and (3) Finding Your Mama (or Papa) Bear.
Supporting Your Kids – Understanding your child’s perspective of gun violence and how you can support them.
Kids will show you that something is bothering them through their behavior, not necessarily with words. They may be more aggressive than usual. Some may seem sullen or quieter than normal. They may seem to have more energy. Sometimes they may start to get sick more frequently or more severely.
Our culture may label these things as misbehavior or unrelated to things that have happened, but I’ve learned that most of the time they’re actually signs of stress, of a story that they can’t make sense of, or something that they need more support to handle. These signs can be present in older kids and adults, as well as young children, anytime we need extra support around a topic.
We talked about Polyvagal Theory in the previous episodes, and that we first want our kids to turn to others – adults – to help them know they’re safe and calm their stress response. To be the adult they turn to, we need to invite them to speak or to show us what they’re experiencing. We need to make room for their feelings and create a space that’s safe for them to be vulnerable and share.
What’s all this like for your kids? And what does it mean when no one talks about them?
What’s their perception of safety?
How are their teachers feeling?
What can they do to feel like they have choice or that there’s something they can do for themselves?
Parents of Boys
Parents of boys need extra support for how to help them with their feelings. Families need to create space to talk about feelings and how they’re making sense of the world. Find a space for the hurt to be expressed in connection so that it doesn’t need to be expressed through actions. We need to help our boys connect their amygdala (fear response center) to their prefrontal cortex.
Other things we need to teach our children is how to regulate their bodies and their emotions, and then their behavior will follow. We need to look at their ACEs and get support as needed. Let’s help them to find the helpers – they need to know who to trust, and that they can turn toward people instead of staying in a stress response. We need to encourage them to share what’s happening. With younger kids, invite them to play and ask them if they’re worried about anything at school and watch them play. They’ll show you.
Regarding the idea of “walk up, not out”
While I wholeheartedly agree that we need to encourage our kids to be nice to one another and to connect, I think it is really important to recognize that we’re blaming the victims when we put these complicated situations that adults don’t know how to handle, indeed many professionals don’t know how to handle, onto our kids. Our kids are supposed to be kids, and the adults are supposed to keep them safe. That’s the role of the adults. But since the adults aren’t keeping them safe, they’re needing to do more adult things right now to make the changes and do what we, as adults, haven’t been able to do for them.
Check in with yourself and figure out what you can do
How are you doing, as a parent? Make sure you get support for yourself so that you can be there to support your kids. Stand back and take a deep breath. What can you do? Can you reach out and be supportive to a child in need, whether your own or someone else’s? Children who have adults who reach out and connect with them are the ones that will be able to do that for others.
Next Series: Raising Boys
Next month, we’re going to be talking about raising boys. Even if you don’t have them, you know them and can help others with boys. This is part of the New Story. We need to work together to support one another. It matters. The more people our boys have in their lives that they trust, the better.
Resources from this Episode
Drs. Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda, co-founders of the ACE Study, in “The Hidden Epidemic: The Impact of Early Life Trauma on Health and Disease.”