Here is an unpopular opinion: telling your kids their dog ran away, or frantically replacing the hamster with a live one before the kids return from school does more harm than good. I can hear some people now “how many kids do you have?” Well, none. “What makes you a parenting expert?” Nothing; however, my parents told me the truth, in an age appropriate manner of course. Some of my friends parents, chose not to be honest and I was more equipped to handle heartache than they were.
When I was between the ages of three to nine I had a large amount of animals. I had fish (so many fish), I had hamsters, birds, guinea pigs and even frogs. This was wonderful because it taught me responsibility and compassion for animals. I learned how to create a feeding routine and how to be gentle and patient with animals. I also learned how to cope with those animals dying, I learned what death was and I learned that it was okay to be sad but not live in sadness forever.
My parents never told me that my animals ran away nor did they replace my animal and pretend it never happened. If my hamster died we would talk about it. We would talk about that hamsters life, we would decorate a shoe box and I would write a letter or draw a picture to be buried with my pet. My parents gave me the gift of closure and coping.
When it came down to losing loved ones, relatives, human-beings, I knew how to cope, I understood death and although the pain of losing grandpa at eleven and grandpa at twelve was overwhelming and terrible, it was bearable because rather than sitting around waiting for my grandparents to come back, because they didn’t run away, I wrote them letters and drew them pictures. My grandparents couldn’t be replaced while I was at school, I had to talk through my pain with people who knew how to comfort and love me when I needed it most.
There will come a time in life when children can’t be hidden from the pain every human being must endure in life. It’s important, not only to be there for them during these heartaches, but to provide them with tools so they can be there for themselves.
I was in lecture a week or two ago and my professor was talking about the difference between a fire extinguisher and a smoke detector. A smoke detector alerts you to a situation before it becomes a problem. A fire extinguisher is used to tame the situation once the damage has already been done.
By teaching your children coping skills, you’re providing them with a smoke detector. By shielding them from anything hurtful, you’ll eventually have to pick up the pieces once the damage has already been done, once the time comes when you’re no longer able to shield the hurt, much like a fire extinguisher.
Children and resilience and strong, much more than we give them credit for. Let’s stop being afraid to talk to them, to share emotion with them, to validate them, to educate them. It isn’t truly them who can’t handle it hear it, it’s us as adults who can’t handle talking about it.