By Tanu Shree Singh
At some point of time or the other, we all have seen some of our peers, parents or grandparents let out a sigh, “Ah, childhood! Those were the days.” And then they get a dreamy look in the eyes and a grin on the face. I think as we grow older we forget the burden of childhood or perhaps the children of today have a darker world thrust on them. Whatever the factors, the point is childhood is not all cotton candy and careless hops and skips through puddles. We spend a lot of time shielding children from sadness, fears, or general heartaches and assume that they are fine.
If a parent falls sick, they are going through separation or if unfortunately the child loses one of them, we delude ourselves into believing that the child will not understand and try to protect the child with lies or half-truths. The fact is that we are somewhere trying to protect ourselves from seeing their pain, avoiding answering and facing difficult questions. Children observe much more than we would be comfortable with. So the choice is not between telling them or not but between trying to work through it all with them or not. So in order to guide the children through difficult times, the following can be kept in mind:
1. Truth always wins
Try hiding something from the child and they will find out sooner or later. And once they do find out, chances of their faith being shaken in the caregiver are higher. So choose age appropriate words and books to talk to them. We are living in the times when there are books that deal with all sorts of difficult conversations. Look for them, get a bunch and use them as a starting point of a conversation.
2. Some answers will still be elusive
It is okay. You can possibly not know everything. I remember having conversations with the boys about death, karma and life. We would exchange our views and would acknowledge that we do not know the ultimate truth. Embrace the uncertainty together and encourage them (and yourself) to be in the ‘now’.
3. Emotional awareness sometimes needs help
Our instinct has always been to erase, bury or ignore the so-called negative emotions. Resilience however comes through acceptance. Anger and tears are okay. Together, we need to consciously accept that bad things happen and it is not anyone’s fault. Coping begins with acceptance of everything — the helplessness, the fear, the pain and the hope.
4. Stick to routines
When things go for a toss, any semblance of familiarity gives comfort. From sleep schedules to mealtimes to caregivers — a consistent schedule gives comfort and a sense of security to the child. So try to stick to it as much as you can.
5. Schedule fun in tough times
You need a break and so does the child. We sometimes get so wrapped up in our problems and managing them, that we forget to pause, to take a break. No matter how tough the times are, schedule some free time with the children — go out, play some board games, watch a movie or simply cuddle up with a book together.
6. Ask for help
Sometimes it is best to seek help. Life does get a bit much with prolonged illness, divorce or loss. It is okay to ask for help, to see a therapist. Unfortunately, mental health is still taken for granted. While we land up at the Doctor’s desk for every sneeze, we assume that we will fix ourselves with time when it comes to mental trauma of any kind. This needs to change. Consider emotional trauma to be the flu of the mind. Seek help.
The heart has an immense capacity to heal. And with time, empathy, love and support, things do get better. As parents we have to make the children a part of the healing process, help them see love in their darkest hour, give them time and space to feel the pain, accept the darkness and embrace the light. We cannot control what life throws at them, but we can be there with them and weather it. Together we need to be the delicate ceramic cups and saucers whose cracks have been repaired using the age old Japanese technique, Kintsugi — filling up the cracks with gold, accepting the pain and embracing the flaws as an integral part of the whole. Together we need to step in to the light of love and be a little more ‘Darkless’.
(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On and Darkless, a picture book for children. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh’s podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)