Losing someone – a friend or family member – is such a difficult time. It’s also an important time to think about how to talk to your kids. Foremost, be honest and direct (avoid euphemisms) with your children, but–and this is key–pitch whatever you say to the developmental level of your child. The great psychologist Piaget offers us developmental markers to guide us.
Before 7 children think more magically, more imaginatively, and often think they can cause events outside of their control. This age group gets confused or misled most by euphemisms. They can’t think abstractly. Some very young children wonder if they did something to cause a death, simply because they’d wished it during an angry moment or had a fight just before someone died, so make sure they don’t think they caused it. And, offer only as much information as a youngster can handle. Young kids often circle back and ask for more information when they need it or can tolerate it. Otherwise, don’t overload them.
Between 8 and 11 or 12, kids are more sophisticated, but concrete in their thinking. They like to connect things, appreciate how things go together, and start to think about how the bigger world works. They can handle greater complexity, so don’t sell them short. Tell older kids the truth, but it’s a good practice to ask permission – have them tell you when they feel ready to talk. They too can get easily overwhelmed by the strong emotions associated with these tragic events.
Teens possess abstract thinking skills. They can handle more information than younger sibs. They can think more critically, have opinions, and strong beliefs of their own. It’s important to respect their way of understanding things. Tell them you are available to talk when they want. Tell them you’re sad and confused as well. But reassure them that, together, you will all get through this. Know that social relationships are important in the teen years, so they may want to be with friends more than usual. Encourage this and tell them its great to have good people to help them through tough times.
Finally – here are general points that parents should keep in mind:
Tooth decay? Pediatric obesity? Sleep deprived the next morning from all night trick-or-treating? How are you going to handle the day after Halloween? How will you deal with the sudden abundance of sweets your children will drag home?
After you inspect the candy, to insure it’s safe, and maybe claim the best treats for yourself, you need a plan. On average, kids bring home two plus pounds of sugar, cocoa butter, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm oil, and many other things few of us can pronounce or identify. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no prohibitionist. I love Halloween. I’ve been known to shake down clients for Kit Kat bars and Peanut M&M’s well into mid-November. But there have to be some guidelines to handle the confectionery loot.
Here are a few great ideas:.
Out of Sight… Out of Stomach
It’s simple, but it helps: By keeping most of the candy out of visual range, many children won’t be as tempted to dive in and overeat. I know parents who set up rules, before their kids don costumes. They establish the firm expectation that parents will be in charge of the candy once it arrives home. If kids don’t accept this, there isn’t any trick-or-treating. Tough love meets Halloween!
Treats for Track!
Walk or ride or run around the playground could earn a treat later on. Beyond the healthy, regular exercise all kids need, extra physical activity justifies being able to have an additional treat. This is a version of smart calorie counting. Children who learn to think about what they are eating each day, and how much they are burning off, will likely grow into young adults more aware of their bodies, nutrition, and more willing to engage in physical exercise.
Space It Out.
Candy has a very long shelf life. Break it up for long-term enjoyment. Spill out the contents of all those plastic pumpkins and pillowcases to visually plan what you want to do with so much candy. Maybe a few pieces at the end of the week, perhaps for getting to school on time or getting teeth brushed, for eating healthy dinner, for homework done. Maybe limit one or two a day after eating a health dinner.
Enlist your child’s help.
That may sound like asking the fox to guard the hen house, but children often come up with great solutions if you tell them they need to be in charge of their bodies and tell them they are smart enough to brainstorm solutions with you. “I need your help,” one parent I know recently said to her seven year old. “We have too much candy. I know its fun to eat, but we have to figure out a way to handle so much of it. I want you to enjoy it, but how can we keep from eating it all at once?”
Give Away and Share.
Finding people with whom to share your candy is a loving, caring act. Maybe it’s an elderly person on your block with whom your children don’t interact with very much. Maybe it’s your regular postal carrier, teachers, or a new potential friend. This is a great way to turn something often seen as frivolous, and sometimes greedy, as fueling positive social interactions.
When all else fails and there’s just too much candy, it might be time to throw some of it away. Better inside the garbage pail than too much inside your child’s tummy. Yet, is this the right message to be giving to your kids? Isn’t it wasteful to throw food away? Yes. Fortunately, there’s nothing of much nutritional value inside the colorful, shiny wrappers. Sometimes, throwing things away that we don’t need teaches kids not to be wasteful in the first place. Given how much we spend on Halloween candy, upwards of two billion dollars a year, it seems better we buy and consume less to start with. If the idea of throwing it away still bothers you, some communities have candy
Buy Back Programs help reduce the amount of candy consumption. Start one in your school or town.
Allowing your child more freedom often feels linked to concerns for their safety. Younger kids want to ride their bike beyond their street. Preteens want to hang out with friends after school in the town center. Teens want to go to parties. Older teens ask to to borrow the car to drive with friends. Their job is to become more independent, push limits when appropriate, explore the world and gain knowledge through direct experiences. Your job is to encourage this process of growth and development, but safely and smartly.
But parents can easily freeze up when they face these parenting situations. They run the latest news headlines through their mind and feel fear. When you allow fear and worry, or even anger, to surface during your parenting, you aren’t your best. You’re leading your kids with your emotional brain centers – you are parenting via your primitive Limbic System. When emotional, you lose access to the most important parts of your thinking apparatus, your executive functions and decisions-making abilities. You want to parent with your frontal cortex!
Here are a few tips.
I love my kids, but I’m exhausted and I think they are too. Any tips for restoring some balance to our home life?
Exhausted? That means you’re expending too much energy to run your household. Maybe you’re trying too hard. Most parents I know work to be their “best” and to do everything for their kids. I think they’re putting unrealistic expectations on themselves. Rather than trying harder, try this:
Above all, focus on the big picture – tell yourself what really matters is happening right now… right in front of you. That’s mindfulness, and it helps you appreciate precious moments. Start enjoying the time you have with your children. They won’t be young forever.