Guest Post: “Roots of Violence Found in Culture” by Debra Harshaw

Debra initially posted her deep reflections on Facebook. I asked her to guest post here because her insights are comprehensive – and well written. She provokes us to look in our back yard, to change our values, and  to make a “paradigm shift,” —  so that all children will have a deep sense of connection, of belonging, and so that peace will reign over violence. Thank you, Debra.


canstockphoto10576990Following the shootings in Newtown CT, I’ve been reflecting on how such horrific violence can be prevented. The majority of blog posts and media reports suggest that the only solution is to implement gun control. I do not think that gun control, or ‘common sense regulation’, as some have suggested, is all that is needed. The problem for the American people goes much deeper than that.

The wise old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” has never been more true than now. A society that places little value on the raising, nurturing and support of their beautiful children and their over-worked, over-stressed parents will unfortunately produce individuals that are dangerously disconnected from their fellow humans. A society that demands that new moms go back to work after as little as 6 weeks of maternity leave — what kind of bonding and connection occurs in such a short period of time? What kind of bond will occur afterwards —  when the parent returns home exhausted, and the newborn sees more of the care giver than of his or her parents?

I tried to get my head around what could possibly cause a young man, just 20 years old, to do this terrible deed. Perhaps intense anger drove him to kill his own parent, one who by all accounts, was doing the best job that she could.

But why the attack on the school, shooting and killing? That did not make sense — until today’s news revealed that he was a special needs child. Painfully shy, socially immature. Probably got picked on, ridiculed, bullied –ah, that brings us to another serious problem seen among our youth today — the problem of bullying. These bullied children suffer depression and anger. They become disconnected from their peers, and family. Some turn their anger inwards and choose suicide. Others turn their anger outwards and become a danger to the people around them. What programs exist out their to support these children, to support their parents? How much funding is available to bring this kind of care into our neighbourhoods? Don’t kid yourself, folks, we, in Canada, do not have nearly enough support for our children and their families either. That problem crosses borders.

I do not think that there is an easy answer to this terrible tragedy. Our American neighbours have a huge and seemingly improbable task ahead of them. It requires an important paradigm shift, away from making money at all costs, to nurturing the family, reconnecting their citizens and developing in every one of our beautiful children (and their parents) a true sense that they belong, and that they have a place in our world.

 


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The Elf on the Shelf Tradition Is No ‘Quick Fix’ for Raising Children

Elf on the Shelf logoI know discussions about the Elf on the Shelf can really trigger some parents’ intense emotions.1 Amy, of the Funny Is Family blog, reports that fans “swear by the magical properties that turn their kids into well behaved angels from Thanksgiving to Christmas.” She represents a small minority of parents who don’t understand why someone would add to the holiday stress by taking on the work involved in keeping up the holiday hoax, and also protests that this Elf on the Shelf is just one more addition to our bully culture:

We can’t say anything because you’re in Santa’s inner circle? Sounds to me like we’ve brought a bully in the house. Hey kids, it’s okay to let someone treat you badly if they are important. Or if they know someone important.2

In an article in the Atlantic, that I highly recommend for your reading, You’re a Creepy One, Elf on the Shelf, Kate Tuttle writes:

 An object that disappears and reappears is wonderfully fun—but it doesn’t have to be something from a store or someone else’s imagination, much less a committee’s. If you have an Elf, make up your own story about what he’s doing in your house—the weirder the better. Do not like him on Facebook. Do not use him to bully your child into thinking that good behavior equals gifts.3

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How You Can Support Your Children After the Tragedy at the Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut

All children are
our children.

School shootings can deeply affect us and our children. For children who hear about the event, reassure them that it is natural to worry and feel scared about their safety and the safety of their school.

Limit exposure to news coverage

First, please keep children away from news media, at least for a couple of days, especially news coverage on television and other screens. Children do identify with the fallen children and the children who survived the shooting. This is scary for them and they can imagine themselves in that situation.

Talk & Listen to your children

Our children are our future.

It can help children to first hear you tell them what happened. Be open. They need to know that you are open to talking about it.

Before talking with your children, make sure that you are in a good emotional space–calm, not angry or scared. Children can handle sadness, and you can tell them that this violence is scary for you too. Your children tend to model you.

Start the conversation. Don’t lie. Don’t over-share. How much you share depends on the age of the child. You know your child better than anyone so trust your own assessment of how much to share.

We used to think that there is no need to burden children under 5 years with this information, but now — if they are in school, on school buses and in school yards — even these young children may find out about the event and need support.

Although this took place in an elementary school, the shooter was a 20 year old young person. Adolescents and young adults will, also, be affected by this event. Open up the conversation with them, if they don’t: “Have you heard what happened?… What do you think?…”

Psychologists who work in the area of trauma and recovery advise parents to use the troubling news of school shootings as an opportunity to talk and listen to their children. It is important, say these psychologists, to be honest. Parents should acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers and local police.

Young children may communicate their fears through play or drawings. Elementary school children will use a combination of play and talking to express themselves. Adolescents are more likely to have the skills to communicate their feelings and fears verbally. Adults should be attentive to a child’s concerns, but also try to help the children put their fears into proportion to the real risk. Again, it is important to reassure children that the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to make their environment — school, home and neighborhood — safe for them.

Parents, teachers and school administrators also need to communicate with one another not only about how to keep kids safe, but about which children might need more reassurance and the best way to give it to them.

From the American Psychological Association:

Keep it simple and age-appropriate. After giving the facts of the event, follow your child’s lead. Some children will be clingy due to the stress that they are feeling. That’s okay. For some children the facts are enough, and they want to move on. Some children will come back later to talk and ask questions. Some won’t.

Be your child’s emotional coach

When children can talk about their feelings it lowers the intensity, makes feelings more manageable, and it connects you with your children heart to heart.

  • Allow all feelings. What is your child feeling? What are you feeling?
  • Don’t try to fix or change their feelings. Just help them tell their story.
  • Help your children to label their feelings as sad, mad, glad, frustrated, scared…
  • Show empathy.

Reassure them

Tell them: “This rarely happens.” “Right now we are safe.” “Right now you are safe.” “We and your school will do everything we can to keep you safe.”

Help them to connect this tragic event to something positive

Tell them some positive things about this tragedy–how people showed support–the policemen, the firemen, and the helpers. People brought food and flowers and people all over the world sent supportive wishes.

Role-model and teach coping skills.

Your children need you. No one–neither teachers, nor friends–can take your place. This is a reminder of how important it is to spend time engaged with your children, and to connect with them heart to heart.

  • Spend time doing something that they want to do. Spending as few as 15 minutes doing this can make a difference for your child. Boys, especially, often talk more when you are doing something with them.
  • Take a walk, watch a funny movie–anything that helps you to cope.
  • Perhaps you and your children could do something to show support–send a card, a drawing…

Know the warning signs*

Most children are quite resilient and will return to their normal activities and personality relatively quickly, but parents should be alert to any signs of anxiety that might suggest that a child or teenager might need more assistance. Such indicators could be a change in the child’s school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomach aches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy. Also remember that every child will respond to trauma differently. Some will have no ill effects; others may suffer an immediate and acute effect. Still others may not show signs of stress until sometime after the event.

From the American Psychological Association:

*If you child shows any of these warning signs don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

 

From my heart to yours.


 


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First Things First

If we want our children to experience their full potential as unique people, I believe that they need to feel connected to us, their parents, so that they can develop a deep connection to themselves.A loving mother holding and smiling at her child

When I was a young mother I sometimes wanted to disconnect from them, especially when my child would “push my buttons”. I began to realize that if I was to be the mother that I wanted to be, I had to deal with “my buttons”. They were mine, after all.

I began therapy and realized my issues were rooted in my childhood. My mother was the dominant figure in my childhood and domineering she was. She demanded obedience at any cost. Her message was that she was in control of me and that I, her child, must meet her needs, including her need  to never be embarrassed in public. I learned that my needs were not important and that I was too demanding. When she was very reactive, she showed no self-control. I felt so afraid of her when she was angry. When things were not going her way she blamed me and was determined to make me suffer.

By the time I was  five years old  I had learned to be a “good” girl — to repress my needs in order to meet the needs of others, to always please others, to be very careful not to make mistakes, never to ask for help, never to question authority, and never, never to say “no”.

At first, I felt angry, but now I don’t blame my parents in any way. Now I know, in my heart, that they did the best they could. And I will always be grateful to my children. Because of them I began my journey of recovery from my childhood.

I also began to study. When my children were in bed, and later in school, I immersed myself in  books like Alice Miller’s “For Your Own Good, the Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence”, and Dr. Susan Forward’s ”Toxic Parents, Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life”.

I began to understand what I needed to change. It became clear why, as a young mother, I was feeling so much pain and confusion and was doing what I didn’t want to do, like seeking the approval of people I didn’t even know — onlookers in parking lots or neighbours, or whoever might show disapproval. If my child had a temper tantrum in public, I felt shame. It was as if people were shouting at me, “Can’t you control your kid?” I was determined not to repeat my mother’s behaviour, but it was becoming like a painful tug of war inside me.

I wanted my children to grow up in a world where they could feel unconditional love, where they would always feel safe, no matter what. I wanted my beautiful, innocent children to flourish. I wanted them to know that they were OK at every age — 1 yr., 2 yr., 4 yr., 14 yr.  I didn’t want to be reactive when “my buttons” were pushed. I wanted them to learn — from my role-modelling — the skills of self-control, self-composure, and empathy. I wanted them to experience the value of treating all with dignity and respect, no matter what. I wanted my children to feel free to be themselves, not who I wanted them to be. I wanted a heart to heart connection with them.

But first I had to clear out my baggage because my issues — not taking care of my own needs, my drive to please, and the pressure to control my children — were stopping me from being the mother that I wanted to be.


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