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Parents and Teachers: How to Talk to Children about the Paris Attacks

paris-attacks-2How to Talk to Kids about the Paris Attacks and Other Tragic Events

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Many of us stayed up late watching everything we could about the tragic Paris Attacks on Friday night. We waited to find out more on Saturday about how many lives were lost, if the perpetrators were all captured and how France and other nations were going to respond.

As a mother of a 5 and 6 year old, I kept the news off while they were in the room and remember running up to the TV to turn it off when a Sunday morning story about the death toll suddenly came on—that’s not the way I want them to find out. Still, I don’t have my head in the sand. it’s important to be prepared to discuss these tragic situations as children hear a great deal in school and from their friends. And with older children in late elementary school, middle school or high school, they likely have head about it already.

How should parents handle it when a large-scale tragedy occurs in the world such as the Paris Attacks?

  • You are the trusted source: If you have a feeling that your children will hear about the tragedy in school, talk to them about it as soon as possible. You can give them the information that is true, appropriate and helpful. Older children might want to learn more about who was involved in the attacks- and there are some websites that provide easy-to-understand information that you can read together or you can read and then discuss the points that you feel are necessary. For example there is this and this for explanations of more complicated facts.
  • Use age-appropriate language and information: Children don’t need to hear the gory details. Give them the information that they need to know in words that they would understand. You can be factual without being gruesome. It is important to set the tone and provide the facts instead of allowing someone else, who may not be correct or appropriate, to do it for you.
  • Allow emotions and fears to surface: Don’t dismiss your children’s fears or emotions. Rather, allow them to have a safe place to express them. If you are upset (as humans, of course we are!), you can talk about being sad or frustrated without going into full detail or matching their intensity. For example, you can say; “I am sad this happened to these people” or “I am frustrated that I can’t help.” In fact, it’s best for adults to talk to other adults about their own feelings rather than delving in deep with children who may not be fully equipped yet to understand.
  • Let them know they are safe: Children are often concerned with their own safety and the safety of their friends and family surrounding them. Make sure they know that events such as these are rare. Talk to them about the adults in this world who are doing what they can to keep the people safe. Discuss the helpers, the heroes and those who are taking action to create peace in this world.
  • Keep an open door: Many children will need more than one conversation to put their questions, fears and concerns to rest. Let your children know that you are available to talk to them if they have questions. You may not know all the answers, but you will do your best to find them out or explore them with your child. For older children, don’t assume that they fully know what’s going on or that you know what they are thinking or feeling. Ask them what they know and how they feel about it. If you feel that there is a better person for your children to talk to about this tragedy, be the bridge or the passageway to the right person so your children feel that their questions have been answered.
  • Honor the loss of life: Whether the tragedy was Sandy Hook, The Boston Marathon bombing or the Paris Attacks, find ways to honor those who were lost. This may be orchestrated through a moment of silence, a family donation or finding ways to help personally.
  • Understand that children all react differently: Some children will want to talk about what’s happening while others might clam up. Some will have lots of questions, while others might seem disinterested. All children react differently. Be aware of hidden signs that a child is upset. For example, sleeping more or having trouble sleeping, withdrawing from friends or wanting to spend more time with family, acting out with poor behavior or wanting to stay home from school. Be open if and when your children become open to talking about the Paris Attacks or tragic events like them.

The best thing we can do for our children is to give them the time, space and arena to discuss their feelings and questions. Just being there can be a comfort when tragedies like the Paris Attacks, the Boston bombing, Sandy Hook occur. And of course, as always, hug them tight and tell them that they are loved. Feeling safe and secure can go a long, long way.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

Parents forget child at Chuck E Cheese: 10 parenting tips for safety and preparation

chuckecheese-300x168I can’t believe I’m saying this…Parents are forgetting their kids at the children’s play place, Chuck E. Cheese’s.  While this may sounds like the makings of a Saturday Night Live skit to you, it’s actually the truth. Yesterday, Good Morning America called me to do a piece (which was squashed at the final hour) about a 5 year old girl who was left at Chuck E. Cheese’s last week.

It happened on Thursday night when the child was left at Chuck E. Cheese’s immediately following her own birthday party.  One of 10 children in a family, she was left behind by her mother—it wasn’t discovered that she was missing until the following day when her mother realized the girl wasn’t in her bed (she as getting her up for school).  Sounds completely implausible, right?

Perhaps.  But when 3 adults were attending the event with 19 children—things can get pretty hectic.  Was there a miscommunication of who was taking the child home?  Did everyone assume someone else was taking care of her?  We don’t know. The girl is now in protective custody until they determine what really happened here.

harmony-300x225But, believe it or not, this has happened before to other parents.  In fact, it just happened last Monday to another family! Three-year-old Harmony was left behind by her parents at a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in Bel Air, Maryland. They only realized that they had forgotten her when they saw a report about her on the evening news. Apparently there have been other cases of this in other areas as well.

Were the children misbehaving? Were the parents trying to employ the safe haven rule at Chuck E. Cheese’s? No. Parents haven’t left their kids there because they were at their wits end, they were leaving them there…by mistake.

I know.  It’s ridiculous. How can people forget their child…let alone in a place that they attended for their children? But if you had 10 children…if it was a big crowd…if you made assumptions about who was picking up or dropping off your child…if you were exhausted or fed up or had a headache…could it happen to you or someone you know?

Whether you think so or not, this does beg some tips about parenting in a large, chaotic play place.

(1) Ensure that you have enough adults: When you have 19 children at a range of ages (some very young) and only three adults, you are out sorely outnumbered. There needs to be enough adults to ensure the safety of the children—especially when they may all be heading in different directions.

(2) Have an exit strategy: When you are dealing with multiple children, make sure every child and every adults knows where to meet, who they are going with, and how to check in with the adults.

(3) Make sure everyone knows the rules: Before entering a large play place, talk to your children about the safety rules. Even though this place is devoted to having fun, safety must come first.  Young children must be attended to at all times—they must be able to see you and you must be able to see them.

(4) Do a headcount: When you first walk in, periodically throughout the play time, and upon leaving and getting into the car, do a head count.  Not sure if everyone is there?  Roll call!

(5) Pair up buddies: Another safety precaution is assigning buddies.  When each child has another person they must keep track of and who must keep track of them, it adds another layer of security.  When you call out “buddies!” everyone finds their buddy or, alternatively, can tell you that they don’t know where their buddy is at the time.  You can pair up friends—but

(6) Appoint adults: When hosting a big group, each adult should be appointed to certain children such that the same people who came in the car on the way there should be the ones who return in that same car on the way home (unless explicit conversations and logistics beg otherwise).  When children pour into cars without thought, assumptions about the whereabouts of certain children can be made.

(7) Teach basic safety: Just like we discussed in the attempted Walmart kidnapping recently, each child should know how to protect him or herself. Who should s/he go to if s/he is lost?  What if s/he is approached by a stranger?  What if someone tries to take them away from the play area or outside through coercion or force?

(8) Teach life-saving personal information: Every child should learn basic facts about him or herself at a very early age.  For example, my daughter just turned 3 and already knows her full name and her street address.  If she needs it, she has it.  You can easily start to teach this to a young child by saying your address each time you approach your home—break it down a little at a time.  It can become a game of 20 questions—what number house do we live at? What street do we live on? What color is our home? What town do we live in?  Then teach him or her when to share the information and who s/he can share it with—and who s/he shouldn’t!

(9) If you can’t handle it, don’t do it: Think it sounds overwhelming to take a group of children to a large play area without more help?  Listen to your gut and don’t do it.  Even taking care of 2 young children in a large play area can be challenging if they go in two different directions—so know your limit and be sure you have enough back up.

(10) Recheck: At the end of the day, before leaving any venue with your family and friends, check and recheck that you have everyone!  Make no assumptions.

When Good Morning American did their preliminary interview with me, they asked if only bad parents would leave their child somewhere such as Chuck E Cheese’s. I can’t make assumptions about the character of any of the parents who have done this—but I can say that parenting begs incredible organization, preparation and attention.  In this case, these areas failed.

As parents, we will all make some mistakes. I’ve had very smart friends who thought the other parent was home and left their children to run an errand for a short time. I’ve had friends who thought the other parent was picking up their child from school and didn’t. Strange things can happen.

The Chuck E. Cheese’s situation pushes this to the limit considering that the parents didn’t know the child was missing until the next morning.  To that I say, check beds, kiss heads and make sure you KNOW where every one of your young, school-age, or pre-college age children are when you turn out the light at night.

What do YOU think? Has anything like this ever happened to you?

drrobynsig170

 

Walmart Kidnapping: How can I keep my child safe from unkind strangers?

brittneybaxterMy Facebook page is hopping today after I posted about the little girl, Brittney Baxter, age 7, who fought her way out of getting kidnapped from Walmart yesterday, when a man grabbed her, covered her mouth and tried to subdue her.  The girl is safe and the alleged kidnapper in custody, but these stories of attempted child abduction always leave a trail of fear, frustration, concern, and questions from parents and educators.

Several parents and concerned citizens have gotten in touch because they are unsure about how they can protect the children in their lives from a similar situation. I wanted to reach out to you to provide some tips.  Please feel free to pass it on and repost the link as this is an issue on many people’s minds today.

In terms of “stranger danger,” what are we supposed to tell our young kids?

(1) People are mostly kind…but some aren’t:  For the most part, people are good, kind and helpful.  But not everyone. “Most people are very kind. When we go to the store, there are many kind people who are there to help you, right? Most people want everyone to be safe and happy. But some people are not kind.  Some people do not make safe and kind choices. We don’t always know who the kind and unkind people are because there are no superhero or villain masks in real life.”

(2) Stay by the person who brought you:  Your school age children should be told to stay by you or the person who brought them.  “When we go out, please stay where I can see you and you can see me.  Please don’t wander into the next aisle alone because I won’t be able to see you.  Wandering off is an unsafe choice.  Staying by me is a safe choice.”

(3) State what you want in the positive as well as in the negative: Wedon’t want to just say “don’t wander off” or “don’t leave the store” but also “please stay where I can see you” and “stay in the store.” Children respond well with what “to do” rather than just telling them what not to do.

(4) Yell as loud as you can: This is not the time for inside voices.  “If someone grabs you, yell: “This is not my mom/dad! This is not my mom/dad! Help me! This is not my Mom/Dad!”  Make sure they understand that they should not just yell “no” or “leave me alone” because some patrons might simply think that your child is throwing a tantrum with his parent.

(5) Get physical: We always tell our children to keep their hands to themselves.  In this “stranger danger” situation, they need permission to get physical. That means kicking, hitting, biting, or whatever they need to do to stay safe.  Tell your child to move their legs like they are riding a bicycle as this makes them hard to hold. If someone puts their hand over their mouth, continue to kick—and bite the person’s hand.

(6) Stay aware: It’s easy to get distracted by the toys and games in a big store.  Brittney was looking at toys when the kidnapper tried to restrain her.  Being aware can give your child time as well as vital information. Say; “keep your eyes and ears open.  Know who is around you and what’s going on.”

(7) Don’t go anywhere with a stranger: Educate your child about some tactics to lure young children.  Gifts, promises of puppies, toys, or even lies like “Your Mom told me to get you” or “Your Dad is hurt…come with me” might be used.  “When you are in a store, you are to stay in the store unless we leave together.  Never leave the store without the person you came in with unless Mom/Dad tells you that you can personally.”

(8) If you’re lost…here’s where to go: We don’t want our children to panic if they can’t find us.  Tell them to look for someone in the store uniform, go to the service desk, find a cashier, or, it’s often a safe bet to approach a mom with children. “Ask that person for help.  Tell them your name and who you are looking for. Tell them that you are lost and you need to find us right away.”

(9) Stand with confidence: Body awareness can be one of the first lines of defense. Think about it; two children—one standing with confidence, head held high, walking as if he knows where he is going and what he is doing vs one who has his shoulders rolled, head and eyes down, unaware of his surroundings.  For additional body awareness and self defense, enroll your child is a top notch martial arts academy that teaches children more than just kicking and punching.  If you need a recommendation, please ask me—our Powerful Words Member Schools and Personal Development Centers are all over the world.

(10) Trust your gut: This is really a message about all choices.  “If your tummy feels weird or you have a little voice inside you that tells you ‘this doesn’t feel right’ or ‘run’ or ‘get closer to Dad/Mom’ then listen to it.  That’s your gut speaking. Your gut—that little voice inside you that tells you when something is right or wrong– is very smart.”

The last thing I would tell you is to allow your children to practice.  Have them practice yelling, kicking, screaming, punching a pillow, and moving their legs.  Have them practice talking to a store clerk and bring them to a store and encourage them to speak to those in uniform so that they get comfortable doing it. My hope is that the children in your life will never need to use many of these tips—better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.

To the wellness and safety of you and yours-

drrobynsig170

Huffington Post article about the kidnapping.

Bah Humbug! 7 Ways to Spread Holiday Cheer to the Cheerless

sad_dog-201x300Not feeling too cheerful this holiday season?

We all know that some people aren’t feeling particularly cheerful this holiday season.  Perhaps you are in that same boat. Recession. Poor health. Bad breaks.  Family frustrations. Maybe it isn’t even you—but you are constantly surrounded by doom and gloom such that you feel that you have to be (as one of my friends confided in me) “the proverbial daisy popping through the cement sidewalk for all.” Whatever your specific frustration, the holiday music reminding listeners of white snow and the commercials demanding that you buy the latest gadget are probably not helping.

So how are you supposed to bring cheer to the cheerless…especially if you’re the one who just wants to say “Bah Humbug?”

(1) Reach out to those who put a smile on your face: While you may not be able to leave your frustrations behind, you can catch a little time on the phone, on skype, or even in person with one of your favorite friends.  Sometimes the temptation is to block out all cheerful people to wallow in your own challenges but this will leave you in the same place you are in now.  You don’t really want to feel this bad, do you?  It is true that when you surround yourself with positive people, you feel more positive yourself…even if it is just for a little while.

Ask yourself; Who makes me feel good?

Pitfalls to watch: Going to someone who used to make you feel good but is now a toxin in your life. Going to someone who doesn’t make you feel good but asking them to do it anyway. Telling yourself you don’t need anyone.

(2) Grant a wish: Helping others can take you up a notch.  Whether you know of a friend who has fallen on hard times and can’t afford a holiday gift for her child or you know of a military family in town who could really use a home cooked meal, volunteering and charity might be just what the doctor ordered.  There is even a charity service called Wish Upon A Hero where you can grant wishes for others right in your area or around the US.  There is something about helping others that can really help yourself too.

Ask yourself; who can I help?

Pitfalls to watch: Getting sucked into someone else’s problems and taking it on as your own.  Spending hours reading about the problems in the world and actually taking no action.

(3) Treat yourself to something you love: Whether it’s taking a trip to the park, a walk with a friend, a massage, a hair cut, or even whipped cream on your hot chocolate, do something that feels good to counter the bad.  Perhaps this is the time you take the drive to see your old friend.  Maybe going south for the weekend would give you a little refuge from your current situation.  A movie? Night out with friends? Reading your favorite book again?  No doubt you have favorite things—break ‘em out.

Ask youself: What helps me to feel good?

Pitfalls to watch: Spending money you don’t have. Putting off treating youself.

(4) Ask for help: Sometimes we feel like we’re on our own little island.  We have so much to do and we can’t catch a break.  Is this really the truth?  Or is there something—anything—that someone else can do to help you out.  Maybe it’s having a friend babysit for 2 hours so you have coffee out with a friend—or having a classmate’s mother pick up your child from school so you can go to the gym.  Maybe it’s having someone come over at night to be there while your elderly mother sleeps so you can go shopping with your sister while having peace of mind.  Perhaps it’s asking a neighbor if they could put leftovers aside for you one night so you don’t have to cook.  These are little things.  They really aren’t a big deal—but they may mean a few moments of sanity for you.

Ask yourself; who can I ask for help?

Pitfalls to watch: Not seeing that help may be right in front of you.  Making excuses that keep you from asking for help.

(5) Do things that make you laugh: We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine.  What brings you to tears…in a good way?  A hilarious book? A funny movie? A new comic on TV?  Maybe you just need to hang around with your 2 year old niece who literally says the darndest things or your uncle who never censors what goes through his head.  These are all little bits of medicine we can give to ourselves to relieve some of the stress and tension that is building…and building…and building.

Ask yourself; What makes me laugh?  What were the last few things that made me laugh so hard I cried?

Pitfalls to watch: Wallowing in self pity.  Telling yourself you don’t deserve to laugh or be happy.

(6) Get out: Get out of your room. Get out of your house. Get out of town!  Sometimes changing the scenery, even if it’s just for the day, can give you a difference perspective. Or some distance.  Or a refuge. Don’t know where to go? Sometimes it doesn’t matter much.  But I would say somewhere that gives you peace.  Open space.  Beautiful views.  The park.  The beach. The mountains. Or towards someone who adores you (see number 1)—a friend, a sibling, an older relative that would just plotz to pieces with joy that you came for a visit.  You could use a little plotzing with delight. (Note: To plotz means to collapse from surprise or excitement).

Ask yourself; Where can I go? What place makes me feel at ease? Where can I go that makes me feel happy?

Pitfalls to watch: Telling yourself you haveno way to get out, nowhere to go and no way of getting there.  Where there is a will there is a way.

(7) Move your body: Walk. Run. Ski. Work out. Turn on the music and dance.  There is nothing that can change a mood like a great piece of awesome music.  Turn it up and be a fool.  You can even break out the air guitar if you’ve got the notion.   Ask some friends to join you.  You might be surprised how many people could really use a good jig in the middle of the holiday season.

Ask yourself; What physical thing do I love to do?

Pitfalls to watch: Laziness, lethargy due to feeling sad or depressed.

Now I know what some of you are doing.  You are making excuses.  Shall we list a few? I don’t really want to see people…I want to stay in bed (get into my pjs, cry by myself, bury myself in a bowl full of rocky road icecream…) I don’t want to laugh. I hate asking for help. There’s nobody to ask for help. Everyone has their own problems…

Now stop it.  That’s not helping at all.  It may not be easy but the choice itself is quite simple. Commit to doing at least 1 of the 7 tips above.  Today. If you are feeling really ready to make a change, commit to doing 2 or 3 or more.  Then go do them.  People often quote Mahatma Gandhi “Be the change you want to see in the world”but it has to start with you.  So be the change you want to see in yourself.  You can do it. All you need to do is take the step and have a little faith in yourself.  You deserve it.  You really do.

Happy Holidays, my friends. Peace, joy, and love.

drrobynsig170