Children ask, “Why are people mad at each other?”

mad demonstrationIf children are hearing news reports of recent national and international events, some of them want to talk about feeling upset by the anger and tension they sense between opposing groups.

Pediatricians, child psychologists and others make available solid advice to guide us through these conversations. We offer additional ideas if you choose to bring in the moral dimension.

Sometimes groups of people are mad at each other because…

  • They perceive that something is not right and, without moral concern, the world would be a dreadful place indeed.
  • They perceive that nothing is being done about the wrong. An important purpose for anger is to motivate us to take constructive action.
  • People are insensitive to their opinions and beliefs. Their most important opinions or beliefs are being shouted down or ignored. They’re afraid that harm is going to come to them and those they care about.
  • They cannot make other people change and they feel like they don’t have the power, energy or force to produce any effect or change.
  • What other reasons can you add to this list?

Know when to stand firm for your beliefs.

mad speak upAt times, people need to take a stand and do it publicly. They are ready to do this when they’ve learned how to remain composed when others do not share their convictions. Otherwise their public demonstrations can become belligerent and bitter and onlookers lose the message they intended to convey.

Being right can lead to being wrong.

It is possible to be so filled with good opinions that those opinions seem to justify unloving outbursts and actions. People become judgmental and rage, taking revenge, picking up weapons, or any other number of harmful acts.

Speak up with love

  • Hold firmly to your convictions while refusing to enter a power struggle. True assertiveness is anchored in the positive message you want to communicate, not in what’s wrong with the other group’s viewpoint.
  • Find balance when your anger is linked to a reasonable issue and you communicate it responsibly.
  • Aha! Parenting reminds us that “In a democracy, through a long and respectable history of peaceful protest and civil disobedience, change was created in the face of entrenched power structures.”

Tweetable: Ideas for responding to kids who are unsettled by their perception that people are so mad at each other lately. Click to Tweet

Communication with God can help kids regain optimism

communication roller coaster fear“My biggest fear used to be of heights. I never went on roller coasters. I was deathly afraid of ski lifts… I’m still afraid of heights. But this is no longer my biggest fear. For a year or two in high school, I guiltily admit that the zombie apocalypse was my biggest fear….As a college student, my biggest fear is a school shooting.” –Jennifer Jaklevic

Jennifer echos many students’ fears.

If a student looks to you for comfort, consider whether some of Molly Wigand’s ideas could be adapted in your conversation, along with the ideas from last week’s post.

communication prayerSpiritual Tool: Communication with God

God is the only one who understands everything you feel. Talk to God about your fears and in return you will receive peace of mind. That peace can guard your mind and heart from excessive worry. Return to God time and time again. God enjoys you and every conversation the two of you have.

“Since nobody really knows what death is like, a caring adult might want to introduce the idea of ‘heaven’ to the child,” suggests author Molly Wigand. “Many people believe death is the beginning of a brand-new life in a beautiful place called heaven.” One mom, whose 7-year-old boy prayed and asked God to show him about heaven, reports that when he woke up the next morning he told her he dreamed about heaven and he’s no longer afraid to go there.

Spiritual Tool: Communication with yourself and others

You can learn to face your fears and worries by talking to yourself. Tell yourself that you can handle it, and you will.”  Molly continues, “Teens can think about some of the fears they had when they were younger and feel proud for getting over those fears.”

Use your creativity to face your fears. Fears may look and feel less scary when a child puts them on paper. If teens fear a school shooting, they can use creative expression to depict the shooting scene, placing themselves in it and in safety.

Find a relaxing place

communication with GodMake a special place (in your bedroom, yard, etc.) to relax your mind and body. Do your breathing and feel yourself calming down. Imagine your favorite people all around you Imagine God protecting you with an umbrella of love.insert link

Talk with a trusted friend, parent or other adult. Sometimes when you realize you’re surrounded by others with similar feelings, your fears fade away. Ask them how they handle their fears. You might pick up a new tool to try.”

“Guide [young people] through the uncertainties of these complicated times and empower them to find courage and face their fears.” –Molly Wigand

Click to Tweet: Among the many spiritual resources available to kids is communication with God, others and one’s self.  Here are specific ideas to adapt as conversation starters with children. Click to Tweet

Sympathy and prayer–kids can see the connection

Our foster daughter Angie had the most sympathy of any person I’ve ever known. At age 14, her spontaneous, heartfelt expressions of sadness for someone else’s misfortune far surpassed my own.

man needs sympathy Angie and I had occasion to drive through some hardscrabble neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. From time to time we would see a man lying on the sidewalk and she would say out loud with great feeling, “Oh! Poor thing!”

Angie’s sympathy moved her to pray for hurting people.

Sometimes I’d ask her, “What is your prayer for this person?” Other times, Angie would say, “We should pray for that man,” and say a short prayer out loud (integrated right into our conversation) about her hope that he finds food today or a better place to sleep.

Prayer fosters a sense of security.

praying girl moved to sympathyIn his book Love in a Fearful Land, Henri Nouwen writes, “Prayer is the way to both the heart of God and the heart of the world.” Prayer is a word that describes a relationship.

Praise children for being willing to pray. They will sometimes pray things that you know are unrealistic or inappropriate. It is up to us to teach them a different way so that they gain trust in God’s goodness and sidestep the disillusionment (which sometimes lasts a lifetime) that God didn’t answer the prayer — God doesn’t care — God doesn’t even exist.

Prayer helps a child be calmer.

Prayer can be one action children take when they feel sympathy for strangers. Perhaps they see something like a car accident firsthand or hear upsetting national or world news. When you allow them to make a loving and prayerful response, you are helping the child be calmer. And reflect back to the child his or her admirable intention that some good comes to the stranger(s).

Tweetable:     Allowing kids to make a prayerful response to upsetting events helps them be calmer. Click to Tweet

More than bystanders: community transformation

no bystanders in school communityFor most young people, school and its related activities are the scene of almost all personal involvement with others. You might say that school is a community– the broader environment in which kids find themselves. They can not only have a good experience there, but they can take the initiative to make it a good experience for others.

3 ways students can facilitate positive change in their school community

  1. Approach and include students who are being excluded.
  2. Tell someone who’s bullying or using put-downs that it’s not cool; not something that’s okay here.
  3. Speak to a campus administrator if there’s word of a fight, or if someone has carried a weapon to school.  (Rick Phillips)

As more than bystanders — students can see specific results.

bystander helps studentA Sacramento-area high school administrator shares, “Two of our students engaged in a war of words on Twitter that led one to ponder suicide…. One of our… students intervened by supporting the victim, directing the attacker to stop, and getting help. The student is now getting support. This was a dangerous situation very possibly stopped because of some Safe School Ambassador [students] on our campus.” (Chris Smith in The Press-Democrat)

Care, speak up, right a wrong

Parents share some ideas here that worked for them when children came to them with community concerns.

  • Preschool – When the child sees classmates in distress, encourage hugs or words of comfort. Let them know that they can pass along to others whatever empathetic gestures you’ve been making toward them.
  • Early elementary –  As you listen to the child’s concerns about an injustice or putdown directed at a classmate, first mirror back what you see and hear. Identify your child’s underlying emotion: “You seem angry.”  And finally, move to brainstorming ideas for action: “If that happened to you, what would you want someone to do for you to comfort you?”
  • Older elementary – Talk about the difference between speaking up to get help for a friend in distress and tattling to get someone in trouble. Keep asking for help until someone responds. And always tell me so I can support you.

Tweetable: Safe ways for students to become more than bystanders when their classmates are in distress. Click to Tweet

Reassure children with promises backed by God’s character

Sooner or later, every child sees trouble coming into life. Things go wrong. Even young children feel anger, disappointment, grief, pain and loss.

Older kids might not like the design of their body, the parents they got or didn’t get. They are surprised when they first learn that adults aren’t always fair or kind.

They are sad when the people who are supposed to keep them safe don’t do their job. They feel helpless when bad things happen or no one listens to them. Their anxiety level rises.

We cannot take away children’s uncomfortable feelings.

But we can reassure them that they are loved by their parents, family members, friends and very importantly—by God.

Guard against offering them false promises.

For example, when serious marital problems persist, avoid over-promising: “Your mom and I will work things out, and we’ll all be a family again.”

Likewise, we should be familiar with what God promises– and doesn’t promise– and stay true to this when we inform children about God. For instance, we can mislead children: “Say a prayer so that Grandpa will get well.” or “Stop doing that or God will punish you.”

Offer true promises backed up by God’s word and character.

I use several child-centered promises from the sacred writings of the Talmud and New Testament to reassure children in times of trouble. You can find others as well.

  • God cares about you.
  • God is love and all love comes from God.
  • God is trustworthy.
  • You will seek Me [God] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
  • God understands everything you feel inside.
  • I [God] am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.

Tweetable: Be accurate about what God promises people and avoid misleading children. Six true promises here. Click to Tweet

 

God as a source of security for children

At any given age children experience normal fears and anxieties. If a family becomes concerned about a child’s unusually high level of anxiety, plenty of psychological resources exist. But there is an additional, important resource to be found in anchoring children at their core—in their spirit.

We all need a place to take our troubles and fears.

For centuries the Bible has been a reliable source of wisdom and offers a powerful picture of what God is like. In one of it’s most meaningful, familiar passages, the 23rd Psalm, a fearful young man writes his prayer:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

And much later in the book:  “Give all your worries and cares to God, for God cares about you.”

Laura Turner states, “The admonition not to fear is the most frequently repeated instruction in the Bible.”

What my parents did

At a very young age, my parents gave me the following  words, recorded in Genesis, spoken by God to Jacob: “I am with you and will keep you in all places.” They explained that nothing could separate me from the love of God, even when harm came to me.

“People have choices,” they said, “and some people hurt others, but when bad things happen to you, God is right there with you. God understands, and you will never be alone.”

Time and time again, these words–God is with me and will keep me in all places–comforted, reassured and built my sense of security not dependent upon my circumstances.

Security–a most valuable gift

Through the dangers, disappointments and losses of my life, God remains a steady presence in the depths of my spirit. I speak of this to the children I love so that they can develop a sense of security rooted in the presence of God and of people who love them.

Note: Bible quotes are Psalm 23:4, Genesis 28:15, 1 Peter 5:7

Tweetable:  How my parents instilled a sense of security deep in my spirit that continues to this day. Click to Tweet