Suggestions and Books to Help your Family During Unsettled Times
To Our Chinaberry Family,
In the difficult, uncertain times we're facing, it is hard to know exactly what
to say to our children. How much do we tell them? How do we best comfort them? What is the best
way to alleviate their fears and keep alive their faith in human goodness? The following tips and
book suggestions for parents of both younger and older children can help address these questions.
(The book suggestions cover a wide age range, including some parenting books.)
Please click here if you'd
like to go directly to the selection of books.
STAY ATTENTIVE TO YOUR EMOTIONAL STATE
- Remember that children, especially young children, are exceptionally attuned to the
undercurrent of their parents' emotional states. If we are afraid, even if we aren't talking
about it, our children know. If we are feeling confident and secure, they know that too. In
unsettled times such as these, it is difficult not to be overcome with fear. We must somehow
master our own fears to be the steady beacons our children need us to be.
- Take time to process your own emotions so you can be clear and emotionally available for
your children. If our children see us facing our own fears, it will be easier for them to face
theirs, especially with our loving support.
- We must look deeply inside, hopefully at a time when we are not in direct
contact with our children, and understand our deepest fears. When we know and then accept these
fears, we can act with understanding and compassion. For example, if we are afraid of being
separated from our children in the event that something terrible should happen, we can take steps
to assure our connection even if we are separated (see below).
- Take the time, even just a few minutes a day, to stay informed. There are many reputable
list serves on the Internet that you can join to keep apprised of what is actually happening,
organizations that ask deeper questions than modern media has the time to ask or answer.
- Slow down and find ways to focus on what is most important to you. Rather than focusing
on your fears, pay attention to what you love and wish to nourish. Hours spent watching the
same news over and over again are certainly better spent in loving interaction with your
- Take concrete action on your political beliefs. Studies show that people who act for what
they believe in feel more in charge and more in control and less dominated by fear. It empowers
both you and your children to see you modeling what being a true American citizen is meant to be.
- Be informed, actively voice your opinions and show you care. A call to your Senator or
Congressional Representatives saying exactly how you feel about a situation takes less than five
minutes and is extremely empowering. Especially when you know that you are just one of many
taking the time to put your values into action. Ask friends to speak out too; there is power in
- Feeling connected to something or someone helps us know that we are not alone, that we
have someone we can reach out to for support in times of need. Now is a good time to foster
relationships with your neighbors and community in fun ways (potlucks, ice cream socials, play
dates with the parents of small children, block parties, etc.). The more interconnected we feel
to those around us, the safer we feel. If we feel connected, we are more likely to feel we have
the power to change things. If we feel unconnected, it is easy to feel
For Young Children:
THE COMFORT OF ROUTINE
- Calm, unhurried routines allow children to feel deeply comforted. When things are done
day after day in the same general way, at the same general time, children's bodies relax
into a rhythm that soothes them. This is especially important in times of stress.
- Maintain your normal routines as much as possible. The more you react to what is
happening in the world by changing your daily life, the more likely your child will react
TELL THEM THAT YOU CARE
- With young children, less is more. Telling them too much tends to incite their worries
rather than calm them down. A small child doesn't need to know the intricate politics that lead
to war. They need to know that their parents will always love them and do their best to care for
them and keep them safe.
- Listen carefully to what your children have to say, let them know you hear what they are
saying and honor their concerns. Telling them ''not to worry'' is not only unhelpful, it is
disrespectful. In the end, simply affirming your love and commitment to keeping them safe may be
the best thing you can do.
BE WATCHFUL FOR SIGNS OF STRESS
- Be alert to the ways in which your children might be showing you that they are stressed,
from irregular sleep patterns to atypical clinginess to a greater propensity for picking fights
with a sibling.
- Whatever issues your child had before are likely to be exacerbated now. If your child is
typically outgoing and is now quieter than usual, be more present for him. If your child is
typically shy and is now on the aggressive side, this, too, can be a sign of inner turmoil.
- Children are very tuned in to what we are feeling. They are aware of what we whisper when
we think they aren't listening, and they pick up on phone conversations when they are
within earshot. They often take in much more than we realize.
- If your child is showing signs of stress, slow down. Allow more time for
everything: more reading at bedtime, more cups of cocoa at the table with mom or dad, and more
time simply to cuddle. A less hurried pace not only comforts children, it also allows them to
find the time to voice their worries and cares.
- Try to reduce the other stresses in your children's lives. This is not the time to pile
on new chores or expectations. Expect the norm, but relax about new things and try to be as
supportive as possible. But, it is also important not to relax your usual standards, as this can
be a sign that there really is something to worry about.
- It can create stress in young children if they sense emotional dissonance in their
parents. Therefore, it's possible that if we have not dealt with our own fears and are sending
confusing messages, our children will have trouble being honest with us and entrusting us with
- Play, artwork, participating in large motor activities (running, biking, dancing, etc.)
or cooking together can be wonderful releases during stressful times.
TURN OFF THE NEWS
- Turn off your TV/Radio News when your children are awake. They are too young to fully
understand the visual and verbal images they are being exposed to and it will do nothing to
comfort them. There is plenty of time after bedtime to catch up on the news.
- If you and your children are separated for large portions of the day, either because of
school or work, put a smiling happy (plastic-covered) photograph of your family in their lunch
boxes for them to see each and every day when they sit down to eat. Let them know your love
follows them wherever they are all day long!
- If it fits in with your religious and spiritual beliefs, now is a perfect time to talk
about guardian angels -- the reason for their presence here, how they watch out for us, etc.
Many children find the idea of guardian angels exceptionally comforting.
HAVE FUN TOGETHER
- Taking the time to build a loving connection between you and your children is the
strongest message of love you can offer. Read more, cuddle more, talk more, play more... simply
be together more.
- Fall back on fun family traditions: picnics in the summer, cocoa and sledding in the
winter, tea parties with friends, etc.>
- Make your own recording of stories for your child to listen to; your voice heard again
and again is inherently soothing. Your child will love the tape no matter how unprofessional you
think you sound.
- Read books that comfort and affirm the basic goodness of life. Click here to see our book list.
For Older Children:
ADDRESS THEIR REAL QUESTIONS
- As your children age, it is much more important to address their real questions. You need
to determine whether they are simply asking if they are safe, or if they really want to know
what is happening in the world and why. They need answers that are true but are also simple
enough that these answers don't leave them feeling overwhelmed or more afraid.
- Try to remember what it was like to be ten (or twelve) or whatever age your older child
is and give an answer that would have satisfied you but not scared you. You definitely don't need
to describe a nuclear winter to a ten-year-old when he asks about a nuclear bomb, but you can
explain that it has long-term, very serious health effects for people around the world.
- There is a fine line between being specific enough to take children's questions seriously
and overloading them with so many scary facts and figures that they become immobilized or worse,
desensitized to others' pain. If you have trouble coming up with appropriate answers in the
moment, you may want to think things through ahead of time so you are ready to answer you child's
- There is nothing wrong with saying ''That is a very good question! I need a little time
to think about the answer.'' If you say this, make sure you do get back to your child as soon as
possible, preferably that day.
- An older child's mind is sophisticated enough to grapple with harder questions and learn
that there really are no simple answers in world conflict. You can discuss things with them
deeply enough to help them learn to see that every story has two sides. Part of developing
compassion and maturity is learning to see other people's point of view. This is an excellent
time to practice.
LET THEM KNOW THE PLAN
- Older children need the same reassurances of your love as they did when they were
younger. What changes is the way you show it. Now, rather than discussing what to do in an
emergency just with your spouse, let your children know your plans too. Let them know how to
reach you and where you are, so if, God forbid, the worst were to happen, they would feel that
they had a plan of action. Nothing complex -- just a short list of contingencies and phone
numbers and maybe what to do if they can't reach you.
LISTEN WITH AN OPEN HEART
- So often our children don't want answers so much as to be heard. They want to talk about
their feelings and know that someone is deeply listening. Comments like ''I can hear that you are
really thinking seriously about these issues; if you have any questions, I'd be happy to try and
answer them'' help your children much more than a lecture on world politics, or dismissing their
concerns by telling them not to worry.
- If we visually protect our children (meaning we don't let them watch hours of TV news
playing and replaying scenes of horror), they will generally only take in as much information as
they can comfortably process. It is very hard for many children to screen out scary visual
images. As a parent, part of our job is to help protect our children from what can be ''too
visually invasive'' media intake. Too much graphic violence can harden a child's heart.
- Comfort and routine are still important stress reducers when your children are older. You
may not have an elaborate bedtime routine with your 14-year-old, but a regular game of cards
before bed or an established check-in time so that you both can connect about your day offers the
same comfort as reading to your younger child does.
GET INFORMED TOGETHER
- Go to the library, search reliable web sites -- learn as much as you can at an
intellectual level appropriate to your child. Learning together not only forges loving bonds but
ensures that your child is getting the truth rather than the half-digested ''facts'' that may be
flying around school.
- The older they are, and the more interested or fearful they are, the deeper you can go.
Feed your child's true knowledge base (without letting them get immersed in the fear-based
traditional media outlook) and at the same time affirm your love and belief in their innate
BE SECRET AGENTS OF GOOD
- Talk about people having the power to be good and/or evil and how each of us must
choose to act from our hearts from a place of goodness if we want to change the world for
the better. Show your child that you are trying to make the world a saner place by your actions.
Model what you wish to see in the world; be a secret agent of good!
- Feeling and acting helpful during times when it is easy to feel helpless is empowering
and comforting. There are many organizations doing good in the world and being a part of
them goes a long way toward knowing that you are making a difference, even in a small way. No
matter what your political affiliation is, or where you stand on current international issues,
peace is most likely what we all want in the long run. Organizations that promote peace
indirectly (by working to end hunger, eliminate hand gun violence, build tolerance and equity,
etc.) take us closer to a peaceful world.
READ, READ, READ
- There are so many stories that develop the hearts of children. Children can become
stronger and face difficult times by reading and hearing stories of other children who confronted
such challenges. Fill them with these stories so they have the courage to act from their hearts
in the world and see things from more than their own perspective.
Click here to see our list
of books to help your family during unsettled times