I hate to admit it. It’s fact I like to try and ignore. But let’s face it, at times, the world can be a horrible, scary place.
I want to say that this is especially relevant today, in light of what’s been going on in the US, no matter what your opinions are, but the truth is it has been for as long as I can remember. War, discrimination, racism, sexism, hatred, poverty, desperation, global warming, garbage, species on the brink of extinction; and the list goes on and on and on.
For a person who thinks deeply about everything, and more specifically about the problems of the world, the truth can be cripplingly overwhelming. For a child who starts to ask existential questions even after a seemingly innocent bedtime story, how do you explain any of the awful things going on around us?
When you have trouble dealing with the news yourself, how do you tell a sensitive child the truth about the world?
I was invited to give a talk at my son’s school last week, something I never in my wildest dreams thought would happen. But it did. They invited me because they were interested. And the number of people we had that night was, according to the school, the highest they’d seen to date. That says a lot; it says there are many parents at the school, the parents of most likely 20% of the students there, who want to know what’s going on with their children.
I will never forget they way my husband and I struggled before we knew our son was highly sensitive. Having answers can sometimes make the whole difference. It gives you reassurance and relief, and from there you can move on to more constructive things. But until you know, you spend most of your time and energy wondering, asking, waiting, worrying… And that’s not good for anyone.
The session went on for about an hour and a half. Honestly, I could have gone on all night. I could’ve told a hundred stories. I could’ve gone into every little detail that drove us to our wits end when things were bad. And if we all got a little more comfortable, I could’ve even cried. And I know there were tears other than mine that needed to be shed because I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like not to know, and to feel so very alone.
There were many great questions after the talk. Some people came up to me later and we talked more privately. I will never forget that night or the things that were said. Some of the parents faces will forever be engraved in my mind, and my heart.
It was one mom who asked me that night how we can go about telling our sensitive kids the truth about the world.
There are some questions people will ask, desperately hoping they will get a clear, straightforward, “that’s the only way”-magic answer. This was one of them. But alas, the kind of answer we so desperately want just doesn’t exist. Some people would like you to believe that there is. But no matter how you frame or deliver the answer, there can never be just one.
So I’m going to speak from experience. And I’m going to speak from the heart. It’s one of the few things I do well.
It goes without saying that some horrors do not need to be shared with kids. But they will eventually be exposed to some things, and they will ask you to tell them what’s going on. And it will never be an easy thing to do. When they ask about the man sleeping on the street, the child in the wheelchair, the house on fire, the three-legged dog; when they ask about why so many animals are endangered, why Syrian children have to leave their country and find a new place to live, about where we go when we die; it will rip you apart, it will leave you speechless, but you’ll have to pull yourself together and give them an answer that they can comprehend, an answer they will be able to digest.
No matter how hard we try to shelter them, they will eventually figure out that the world is not the bowl of cherries we wish it could be.
My son asked me one day if monsters are real. I explained to him that the monsters we see on TV or read about in books are simply a figment of someone’s imagination, meant to entertain us. He accepted that. But then a few weeks later, on our way back home from a long day at the zoo, he said to me after having given it some thought:
“Mom, did you know monsters really do exist? We’re the monsters. We keep cutting down trees and the animals have no place to live.”
Yes, at the young age of six, my son figured out on his own that people can be awful and inconsiderate and unreasonable. They can be monsters.
There’s no way you can explain why that is, however. It’s just a reality we all have to face. The real question is, however, what do we do about it?
For the highly sensitive, bad news can keep you up at night. It can make it difficult to breathe, or to focus on anything else. I know. It happens to me all the time. The truth can cut like a knife when you care so deeply.
But for the sensitive who care so deeply, the ugly truth can also lead to amazing things. It can drive us to do something about it; it gives us strength to correct as many wrongs as we possibly can. It pushes us forward to offer help when most people can only watch. It makes us want to give as much as we can to charity. Having big feelings can be overwhelming, yes. But it can also be just want this world needs.
That’s what we need to tell our kids. That not matter how young or little they are, they have the power to make this world better, for all of us. And we need to lead by example, and explain to them why we do what we do, and how important it is to help those who aren’t as lucky as we are.
It may lead to tears, or heaviness that lasts for days. But it can also lead to them wanting to take matters into their own hands.
Our son, just two days ago, raised around eight hundred dollars on his birthday to support a charity I’d told him about the day after the fundraiser I’d attended. Without hesitation, he said he wanted his friends to give him money instead of presents, so that he could help support A Mother’s Wish. And this was not the first time. Last year he did the same to support the Ronald McDonald House Charity. He was turning six then, and it didn’t take any convincing on my part to get him to do it. He wanted to, with all his heart. He chose those charities himself from a long list I’d made for him. He believed in their cause. He wanted to help.
And he did.
We need our kids to know that they will see things they don’t like; they will witness injustice; they will meet people who don’t have the same values they do. But they also need to know that they can be the heroes the rest of us need. We all have the power to make a difference.
It’s just a matter of wanting to.
A great article on the matter is How Far Should Parents Protect Highly Sensitive Children From World News? by Amanda van Mulligen.
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