I believe in love even when feeling it not.
I believe in God even when he/she is silent.
--Composed by a Holocaust victim
The key to getting through any challenge is faith--believing what our eyes cannot see. Our eyes have been filled with images of horror the last few days--darkness in our world of light. This is a time we must draw on our connection with spirit as never before and find ways to help our children find their center when they are rocked with fear and questions.
Use television with caution.
Be aware of the images you are beaming onto your young child's consciousness. If you want news of the tragedy turn on the radio; it's less intrusive. If your child has already seen the chilling images of destruction, help him come up with another image of beauty to replace it. When he is trying to fall asleep, his "movie projector" mind can choose to substitute the horrifying scene with the calm image he has created. On the other hand, older children may find information to be empowering. My 14-year-old daughter said, "Knowledge is power, Mom, and it helps me to learn all the facts I can." In this case, watch with them and discuss what you are witnessing on the news.
Use candles as a concrete way to symbolize your efforts to send light to those who need it now. Perhaps you want to give each candle a specific intention. Light a candle and pray for the victims and families touched by this trauma. Light another candle for rescue workers, doctors, firefighters, and all those who are working to make our lives safe and to repair the damage. Your child might like to designate the third candle. She may wish to pray for those people who caused this horrific act of violence, that spirit might fill them and help them see that painful action is not a choice.
Rely on comforting rituals.
Many families have told me they have found comfort from praying the memorized prayers of their youth. Familiar repetitive prayer may be a balm for you and your children. Don't forget mealtime prayers and the rituals of your everyday lives. Kids cling to the comforting rhythm of the ordinary during times of stress.
Connect with others.
If your community or church is holding candlelight services go with your kids. Join with neighbors for dinner or take a walk and speak to those you see. Kids long for connectivity at all times, but especially now.
Talk, listen, talk and listen some more.
Don't assume your 5-year-old is "oblivious" to the events of the past few days or your sophisticated teen won't talk to you anyway. My mailbox has been flooded with stories of horrific pictures young children are drawing showing bombs and blood, as well as their worries and misapprehensions--such as, "Our house is white--is that the 'White House' they meant to bomb?"
Ask open-ended questions and make time to listen without distraction. Expect questions such as "How could anyone kill in the name of God?" "Who is this Allah that they are killing for?" Then honestly respond with your own grief, your own horror over the beautiful image of God being used in hate.
Your young child may have fears during the night. Set up a sleeping bag on the floor of your bedroom and let your child know she can snuggle in if she feels afraid.
Let go of expectations.
All children react differently to stress, and their reactions change with each stressful situation. Be open to whatever behavior arises and sensitive to what your child might need at any given time. One mother told me her 11-year-old son showed no emotion over the events of the last few days, and she worried he wasn't aware that this was truly different from a video game. It wasn't until she over heard her son talking on the phone to a friend that she understood he was unloading with his pals not his mom.
It is important to remind children that all Middle Eastern people did not perpetrate this heinous act. We must be very careful about saying what "they" did or what "they" believe. Not everyone from the country where these zealots originated--wherever that may ultimately turn out to be-are bad people. Nor should we blame or scapegoat all those who call on Allah or any other name of God.
A 15-year-old I know felt so helpless the day of the tragedy until she took action, however small. She hung her family's American flag outside and then purchased yards of red, white, and blue ribbon to drape across their front fence.
Encourage your kids to do whatever might make them feel in control--such as making red, white, and blue yarn bracelets for their classmates or putting rainbow stickers on their notebooks.
Make an appointment to donate blood next week or the week after. Your kids could come up with something to give the blood donors and volunteers, such cookies, juice, or magazines and books. many parents bring their children with them when they give blood. The kids might love to have something to read or play with while they wait. Go to redcross.org or call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE for details on other ways you can contribute.
I've also heard that the rescue dogs in NYC are in need of some assistance. You and your kids can send shampoo, towels, dog boots (as their feet are being cut by all the glass), or monetary donations. Clearly identify the packages as Rescue Dog Supplies:
New York City Offices
c/o Search and Response
New York, NY 10007
Call your local airport or hotel near the airport and ask if you might bring toys and books to any families who are stranded. Imagine how grateful they will be.
Perhaps you could get together with your neighbors, church group, or child's class and have a bake sale to raise money for rescue workers. The City of New York is accepting contributions to aid the families of police, firefighters, EMS, and other city employees involved in rescue efforts. Make your check or money order payable to:
The City of New York
100 Church Street, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10007
Join me in sending light and prayers to all the children whose lives will never be the same--children who have lost parents and other loved ones. We can join hands, however far apart we are, and let our kids know we are linked in love, not hate.