Dear Family Coach: My kids are exposed to what seems to be an endless stream of devastating news. Natural disasters, mass shootings and other forms of unspeakable violence are impossible for them to avoid. It's so normal for them that they are starting to turn jaded. I don't want to freak them out or have them live in fear, but at the same time, I don't want them to lack sympathy for the victims of these events. How do I strike a balance? — Sick of It
Dear Sick: It's a horrible shame that our kids are growing up in this environment. Before the victims of one hurricane or event are taken care of, there are more victims to worry about. As adults, we find it exhausting to manage the emotions of the constant barrage. For children, it's even trickier.
Finding that balance of being an aware and caring person while still taking care of one's own emotional well-being is challenging. If children — or even adults — felt the pain of every incident around the country and world, they couldn't function. But looking the other way isn't the answer, either.
Kids in elementary school should be allowed to be blissfully unaware of the world's pain. But once children enter middle school, they can no longer be shielded. As soon as an incident occurs, there are nearly instantaneous videos on social media and YouTube. The best thing a parent can do is take cues from children. If they appear uninterested, you can make a choice to let the issue fade. If they seem stressed or upset, then go ahead and work through it with them.
To ensure your kids grow up knowing how to help people in crises, pick a cause to work for as a family. It could be something close to home, something with a personal connection or something totally random. Helping to raise money, helping to raise awareness and/or supplying needed goods will go a long way toward showing your children how to grow up to care about the people suffering around them.
Dear Family Coach: My 6-year-old son is purposely rebellious. I tell him to come, and he runs away. I tell him not to throw toys, and he looks me right in the eye and throws another toy. It's like this all day long. When I try to enforce consequences, he kicks and screams and has trouble calming down. How should I handle his pure defiance? — Exhausted
Dear Exhausted: Your son is trying to get a rise out of you, or he's testing you. Either way, it isn't much fun. Whenever he is being rebellious, he is basically sticking his tongue out and saying, "What are you going to do about it?" And what you do immediately after his rebellion will determine whether he will continue this behavior.
To curb these incidents, I recommend two different ways of acting. If he is testing you and there aren't dangerous consequences, simply ignore him. He is trying to push your buttons. Don't allow it. When he sees there is no reaction, he may decide that testing you is boring. However, if his behavior is dangerous, then enforce a logical consequence. For example, when he runs from you, the consequence is that now he must hold your hand. When he throws food, the consequence is the plate is immediately removed. Make sure to follow through with consequences to the fullest extent. Otherwise, you will just reinforce his behavior.
Shift your focus to rewarding positive behavior, as opposed to punishing his provoking behavior. Set up expectations clearly, and reward him whenever he has good behavior. Try small intervals or simple tasks to reward at first.
Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.