An Simple and Ongoing Response for Our Children
The Newtown Tragedy by Kim John Payne
We are very grateful to Kim John Payne for reaching out to us with this article about parenting, teaching and caregiving in these challenging times. We have never sent out a “Special Issue” outside of our Monday newsletter in three years, but Kim and Davina’s article merits an exception to our policy.
This morning, I picked up a poetry collection and saw that I had marked two poems a few days ago. “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond” and two verses from “Gitanjali” by Rabindranath Tagore, born the same year as Rudolf Steiner. I hope they speak to you as they spoke to me. -David Kennedy
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
E. E. Cummings
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
For a downloaded copy please click here Newtown Response
An opportunity for us as parents and caregivers to offer our children a reassuring and loving presence in the days and weeks ahead.
Your children may encounter others this week who know more about the tragedy in Newtown than they do, from direct exposure to media or from overhearing adult conversations, or from other children. They may come to you for more information, explanations, clarifications…this
seeking to understand and integrate may take some time. This is an opportunity for parents and teachers to offer wisdom and loving presence, to meet each child in the way he or she needs to be met.
Please consider the age of your child and how any of this information may impact him or her – as their parents you are the best expert on how to protect and strengthen your own children and your family. They need our reassurance that most people are good; our loving presence and deep quiet listening may be more helpful than a lot of explanations. Children can, and do, work things out for themselves according to their own abilities, over time, in the warmth and calmness of adult presence.
However, if your child either has not heard about this terrible event or has not taken it in, it may be best to “let it be,” knowing that when your child does want to speak about this, you will be ready. You may be wondering about your child having heard about this and not speaking about it. For the younger child we encourage you to watch your child’s play very carefully. For the older elementary aged child, usually the signs to watch are more in their behavior and attitude. Both play and behavior may be a guide to what is going on inwardly for your child.
Simplicity Parenting has at its core, pathways that give direction for everyday family life. However in moments like these they also provide clear and deep orientation for a child who may be in need of reassuring warmth and safety.
Parent will want to observe their children even more lovingly and carefully than usually, if the children have been exposed to a lot of information about this tragedy. Some children may come with difficult questions; others may act out what they can’t integrate, in play. As much as possible allow this, so long as it is safe. You will want to adjust your family life – by simplifying – if your child seems stressed or anxious, nervous and generally soul-fevered.
Some children may become a little more challenging to you in terms of their behavior. What they are likely doing is looking for your warm but firm
boundaries. It is tempting to “cut them some extra slack” at this time. However, loving boundaries, perhaps a little more gently applied, will help them feel safe, as they reinforce the way that your family defines itself. Also, a special note about transitions like bed- to- dressed, home-to-school, or play time-to-dinner time…These can tricky at the best of times but in potentially anxious days like those that may lie ahead, try giving extra time for transitions. Previewing ahead of time how the transition is going to happen and what you expect may also be helpful.
For more extroverted children… they may act “out” a little more and push the family envelope. They may be more provocative towards you and
For introverted children… they may go inward and become a little quieter or perhaps get stuck or stubborn.
Filtering Out Adult Concerns
We recommend – urge – that children not be exposed to news reporting on screen or radio, or adult conversations about this event. Young children do not really grasp that repeated announcements are about one single event. Each time they hear a news report or overhear an unguarded adult conversation, the risk is that it sets off a brain based “cascade” of fight-or-flight hormones which can significantly delay their healing.
What to Filter In…Alternatively, reach into your store of favorite family stories. Tell the familiar beloved stories of Grandpa or Grandma, or maybe some from when you were little (especially the ones where you were naughty). These old stories are familiar and deeply securing to a child.
The filtering out mantra applies here more than ever.
Before you say anything in front of your child ask yourself three simple questions.
1. Is it true?
2. Is it kind?
3. Is it necessary?
Unless your instinct gives you a very clear “yes” to each of these questions,
chances are it is way better to defer the comment until your child is not present.
Rhythm It may help to light a candle or do some other simple ritual so that children have the understanding, “There is something we can do to help.”
Make sure that bedtimes are especially regular, slow and peaceful, so that children have plenty of deep sleep in which to process what has happened in the day. And finally consider strengthen the rhythms that you already have in family life. In these kinds of situations familiarity brings safety. Rhythm quietly and invisibly says to a child, “There are things I can count on. All is well here in this family.”
Children may need more time with parents, more down time, in the next few days and weeks. If your child seems upset by the tragedy, be prepared to quietly, without explanation, simplify your schedule, in favor of more family down time and togetherness. You are in charge of the safety, health and peace of mind of your family! Children do not easily process emotional upset when they are kept busy. This might seem counter intuitive but distracting and detouring a child away from upset, risks having them circle back to the source and can bring about a very difficult loop of prolonged feelings of uneasiness and even upset.
A simple, beautiful, calm bedroom or play space, and home, will help all children to play more deeply and to be at peace. Play outside can be especially helpful.
Try to keep the toys, books, clothes a little more tidy than usual. On a deeper level this helps a child have a sense of orderliness in their world, just a time when this is needed.How to respond to questions? Our deepest wish for our children is that they feel safe.
Talking about “safety” may well raise the question in the child, “Why are they talking about being safe? Is it because I am not safe?”
By being gatekeepers and protectors we can create a reassuring environment and atmosphere in which the child can feel safe. This may well be more effective than talking about safety, even in reassuring ways.However if you feel the need to respond to some extent with words, very simple answers to children’s questions can be given, without going into detail or long explanations. This may help to integrate this difficult experience in a healthy way.
Here are some guidelines that may help in case you find yourself at a loss to begin with:
Be sure to use language and words that you know your child already understands, so that he or she can easily absorb what you say. Speak in your normal familiar voice.
If you are asked a question that you are not sure about how to answer, give yourself time, “That is a big question, honey. I’ll think about that”. As the day goes on, assess whether the child still needs an answer. Many questions that children have come and go, and may not actually need answering by us. Often just speaking the question or comment to you, and knowing you have heard them is enough for our child. Sometimes they may find their own satisfying answers in play.
What you could say…
“Sometimes – almost never – bad things happen… everyone is very sorry about this…. and there are lots of loving people helping those families now.”
“It is hard for any one to understand this… and we can help by sending our loving thoughts/ prayers to those families.”
For the younger child…”You will understand this better when you are bigger. Right now we can send our loving thoughts to those families. We will light a candle for them this evening…”Many faith communities are offering guidance to parents and families, based on their own particular belief system. You may want to ask your faith leaders for support if you have questions they could answer.
Please use our blog www.simplicityparenting.com as a forum to share children’s questions and responses that seemed to be helpful to them, to help other parents.
Kim John Payne is the author of Simplicity Parenting