So it’s the old “what do you tell your kids when bad things happen” thing all over again. The recent Wall Street meltdown and the subsequent cries of doom and gloom about the nation’s economy are pretty scary for any kid paying attention. How do you explain it without making your kid feel really, really scared?
Truthfully, Smartmom has become a bit of a pro at explaining scary world news because, frankly, there’s been so much of it during OSFO and Teen Spirit’s childhood.
The 2000 election, 9-11, the Iraq War, subway bombings in Spain and London, terrorism throughout the world, Abu Ghraibthe list is long. And now this.
Indeed, Teen Spirit and the Oh So Feisty One are coming of age during dark times in our nation’s history. It’s not exactly consoling to tell them that they’re living through important historical events. Sept. 11 is, of course, a defining moment in OSFO and Teen Spirit’s childhood. If Teen Spirit and OSFO didn’t completely understand what was happening on that day, they were aware that thousands of people had died, that children in the neighborhood lost their parents, and that the sky over Brooklyn was raining tiny pieces of paper for days. Since then, they have heard about it over and over again.
OSFO, who was only 4 at the time, was home with Smartmom because her pre-school was set to open the next day. Teen Spirit was in his fifth-grade classroom at PS 321.
When the first plane hit, Smartmom was in the kitchen listening to the radio wondering why a private plane would do something so stupid as to fly into the World Trade Center. But when the second plane hit, and it dawned on her that New York was being attacked, Smartmom tried to quell her own panic so that OSFO wouldn’t catch it.
So what did she do: she polished OSFO’s nails while she listened to the radio. The smell of the nail polish calmed her as did this simple act of normalcy.
Later, she called her father and stepmother whose apartment has a view of Lower Manhattan and listened to their panicked cries as they watched the buildings fall. At the time, Smartmom didn’t have a TV — an earnest attempt to limit television viewing. So Smartmom and OSFO went downstairs where Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz were, of course, watching the events live on their huge television set.
OSFO and the Kravitz children saw the images of the towers falling again and again. But what OSFO remembers most is that the Kravitz’s split screen television showed the Power Puff Girls and the terrible events at the same time.
“I just remember wishing we were watching the Power Puff Girls instead of the towers falling,” OSFO told Smartmom recently.
In the weeks after 9-11, Smartmom read cogent advice from Mr. Rogers on his Web site: “Children sense when their parents are really worried, whether they’re watching the news or talking about it with others. No matter what children know about a crisis, it’s especially scary for them to realize that their parents are scared.”
Well, OSFO certainly saw her mom scared and talking about it over and over again on that day. Now Smartmom understands how important it is to limit television viewing during such a crisis.
“Our children need us to spend time with them — away from the frightening images on the screen,” Mr. Rogers wrote.
“Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers. It’s reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help in this world.”
During 9-11 it was easy to focus on the heroism of the firefighters who risked their lives to help others. This time, not so much, what with all the lack of leadership coming from our elected leaders.
So how should we tell the children about the worst financial crisis (potentially!) in history? OSFO heard that there was going to be another Depression and it really freaked her out (not that she knows what the Depression even is; though living with Smartmom, she’s heard plenty about depression). True, in fifth grade, she studied the Depression and knows all about unemployment, fireside chats, and breadlines. But after that, it gets vague.
So Smartmom assured her that we wouldn’t be living on the street or eating at a soup kitchen, no matter how bad it gets (though she did not tell the child that she was lying about that last bit). She did tell her that the economy was in trouble but that people with lot of expertise were going to solve the problem (OK, so she lied again).
Teen Spirit has been following the situation much more closely. But still, like any kid, he wants to be reassured.
“We’re going to be OK,” Smartmom told him and that seemed to help.
Times like these, it’s important to listen to your kids and answer their questions in an age-appropriate way.
It’s also a good time to give them extra comfort and physical affection. Finally, it’s important for Smartmom to remember to take her Zoloft and not drink too much of Hepcat’s El Pico coffee. She must stay calm even if she is scared out of her wits.
No need to worry the children.