In the wake of this most recent Orlando Night Club Tragedy I am reminded of the importance of three things children must learn:
1.) The importance of understanding/accepting and loving others who have points-of-view that are different than theirs.
2.) The knowledge that asking for help with uncomfortable feelings is not only okay, it is the right thing to do.
3.) Flexible thinking is essential to function well with others and be comfortable and healthy in life. Children need to be taught to seek help when they experience intense feelings that they are not able to manage on their own.
Asking for Help
Often times, hate stems from fear and lack of understanding. When children are taught to recognize and name their feelings and are taught effective, socially appropriate ways to manage uncomfortable feelings, they are able to explore ideas and concepts that are different than what they are used to, rather than rejecting others who are different than they are. It is never too early to develop your child’s emotional vocabulary.
Look for opportunities to ask your child how he/she is feeling. If you see him getting impatient in line at the grocery store ask him how he is feeling. Point out other shoppers in line and ask him to guess how they are feeling. If you are watching a funny movie together or enjoying time at the park, ask your child how she is feeling. If you child is showing signs that he is angry (e.g. stomping his feet, knocks over a game board) ask him to use his words and tell you what he is feeling. Provide verbal cues if your child is having difficulty naming his/her feeling (e.g. “Hmm, when I go to get my keys and I can’t find them I feel frustrated. Is that how you feel?”).
Teach your child that feelings are natural and healthy, and that we have to learn appropriate ways to express our feelings. Explain that very strong feelings are normal and that there are healthy ways to express strong feelings such as drawing a picture, jumping on a trampoline or talking about our feelings.
Children learn a great deal by what they observe their family and friends doing. Model acceptance. Talk with your child about his unique qualities and point out similarities that he has with classmates and neighbors. When you are in public with your child seek examples of people who look different: different clothing, speaking a different language, possibly exhibiting a special skill (an artist painting in public). Use those moments as opportunities to teach about similarities and differences. Ask your child what he has in common with the artist on the street (both are male, both are in Illinois, both are standing and breathing and alive). Help your child to understand that it is okay to have friends who have different ideas than they do. For instance, you might state that you are a Cubs fan, but that your good friend is a Sox fan.
Instill in your child the concept that although a person may look different, speak a different language or have different beliefs, that person is still a person who eats, sleeps, has feelings, family and friends who love him just as your child has all of those things. Teach your child to respect all people.
As parents, it is our duty to teach our children to recognize and manage their feelings and to ask for help with strong feelings. It is also our responsibility to model flexible thinking and teach our children to look for things they have in common with others rather than focusing on differences. We need to model and teach acceptance of points-of view that are different from our own. One way to eliminate hate is to teach our children to accept and love others.
Talking to Your Child About Tragedy
If you’re looking for a way to talk to your children about the recent tragedy in Orlando, please visit our age-by-age guide.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!