The world seems to have a lot of growing to do right now.
Terror, global and intimate, wrought by trolls of all kinds; the stuff of children’s nightmares jumps out everywhere in the news and social media.
We parents have to help our kids understand this mess as best we can, as they need to know their adults can handle life, warts and all. Plus, they themselves need to know how to handle a bully.
So, here’s an idea. Most families will go through tantrums at some point, and have their ways of handling them. I have developed a simple Tantrum First-Aid model in my clinic with young families (and at home too!) which is kind to kids and helps adults stay thoughtful throughout tantrums.
I see that the same model can be applied to help kids understand thoughtful adult approaches to acts of violence and intimidation in our world.
We need to simplify matters for this dinner table talk: When the assailant is smaller than you, it’s a tantrum. When they are bigger, it’s bullying. This distinction determines which party we need to protect.
We need to provide protection for a tantruming child, whereas protection needs to be provided from adults that harm others.
Tantrum First-Aid is made up of “3 Don’t-Gives”:
1. Don’t give in to the demand the tantrum was originally about.
2.Don’t give up by walking away, ignoring your child or locking them up.
3.Don’t give it back by having a tantrum yourself!
In all that “not-doing” we adults are doing something very important – showing our kids that this tribe is equal to whatever their storm brings upon us. We are making it safe to think.
Children who experience the safe passing of these storms grow more confident in their adults and within themselves.
Now for those scary adult behaviours. Using the 3 “Don’t Gives” can protect you and your loved ones from the effects of acts like terrorism, trolling and other bullying.
Tell your kids around the dinner table about how strong grown-ups face these troubles:
1.Don’t give in: don’t let the behaviour deliver its intended result. We must vote as we would, pray and love as we would, and walk where we would had the behaviour not occurred.
2.Don’t give up: avoidance is a safety behaviour which might help immediately harm occurs. But avoidance teaches us only one thing – to avoid some more. We’ll want to detach from the awfulness, and may need to for a bit. But we must come back when we have recharged and are ready to think about it all again. This stuff is too important to walk away from.
3.Don’t give it back: throwing harm back at the person who threw harm at us gets everyone precisely nowhere at best. At worst it invites escalation with the threat of mutually assured destruction. Remember that handy acronym from the Cold War era? MAD. Giving it back is madness of the most destructive kind. So don’t.
As with children’s tantrums, all that “not-doing” is actually doing something vital. It’s making it safe to think properly.
It allows time to read the writing on the wall with due care and reflection. As every crisis yields valuable lessons, so each of those acts of harm has vital signs for us to read.
For example, the modifiable social determinants of terrorism and trolling; or the massive rethinking needed in nearly all our old hierarchies, riven as they are with abuses of power and derelictions of duty only now coming to light.
Your kids need to know the adults will read the signs, debating passionately as we tend to do, what each trouble means for our society.
Because if we read the signs well, we can do more than just survive these times. We can thrive.
And when their time comes, your kids will know how to face that playground bully:
Make it safe to think.