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#SELChat: Talking with Kids in Uncertain Times

At the 2017 Music City SEL Conference, Tim Shriver stated in his keynote address, “We live in volatile, ambiguous, complex and uncertain times.” He unpacked this statement by explaining that a child’s experience of the world today is not the same as when we were young. We are living in a time of unprecedented national and international upheaval. Almost three years have passed, and there is more uncertainty than ever.  How do we help children grow?

In order to determine how we help kids, we must first examine how we as caring adults deal with the current state of affairs. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work; our children will do as we do.

For some of us, the response to the current unpredictability is hedonism, pursuing pleasure as the highest good. We cast off restraint and do what feels good in the moment. YOLO! This philosophy is often glorified in pop culture. It’s what sells. The message kids often get is that they can live without consequence.

For others of us, the reaction to the unknown is fear, which can be exhibited in a variety of ways, such as isolation, control, or legalism. Whatever the chosen path, fear cripples the individual.

I believe there is a middle ground between these two extremes: presence.

When I choose presence with myself — or as my friend says, “when I choose to show up in my own story” — I am being self-aware. I can identify and interpret my own feelings. I give myself permission to feel what I need to feel: fear, anger, sadness, joy, disgust, surprise, trust and anticipation. I process my experiences. I fully see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around me.

When I choose presence with others, I am being both respectful and kind. According to Love In A Big World definitions, Respect is valuing yourself and others, and Kindness is treating others the way you want to be treated.

Confession: When I’m in an uncomfortable situation, my default is to use my superhero power of becoming invisible. A friend recently challenged me with these words, “Bring the full weight of who you are.” I’ve been thinking about this a great deal and have begun practicing this both personally and professionally. The difference has been astounding. I am more empowered and authentic in my relationships, which makes connections stronger.

One of my best friends said, “When you are honest about what you need then we can love you well.”

So what does this mean for the children in our lives who are growing up in this “best of times, worst of times” kind of world? This means that we give them space and grace as we choose presence with them. What does that look like on a practical level? It means taking my daughter to dinner for some one-on-one time and listening to her talk about all of the big changes happening in her life during her junior year of high school. As we talk I ask, “What can I do to help?” Her answer? “Just be here.”

Here are some ideas for talking with kids about these uncertain times:

• Touch base on the headlines. Be honest and keep them informed as much as it is age-appropriate. A steady diet of the news may only breed anxiety. Children need to know that they are safe and secure.

Stay connected with family members and friends in affected areas. Phone calls, texts, emails and social media posts provide assurance to all that these important relationships are intact.

• Volunteer and donate. Kids can help pack supply boxes or clean-up buckets. The project may take a bit more time, but teaching kids the value of serving others is more than worth it. The pennies kids give can add up to big money.

This article was adapted from an earlier post on Ministry Matters.

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