Talking with Kids During Collective Uncertainty

Talking with Kids During Collective Uncertainty

by Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW
 
By Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW
 
Another terribly confusing, scary crisis.  Watching a mob of angry people flood into a building that is a symbol of everything we take for granted- freedom, safety, personal opinion, free speech, cooperation, working for the greater good- in our democratic society glued me to my tv and phone.  I permitted my children extra video game time knowing they were wearing headsets and interacting in all their tween glory with their friends, unaware of yet another trauma unfolding while I tried to make dinner, reading and re-reading the recipe, the details and steps not able to hold together in my mind.  I wanted them to be unaware, at least until I could wrap my brain around what was happening and how to explain it to them.
 
Just as we were all beginning to feel a little hopeful that the Covid vaccine would turn life back to normal we were subjected, again, to fear and uncertainty. This time it was at the Capitol Building. Over this past week, many parents have asked the best way to address this with their children. Here are our recommendations:
 
1.  Talk to your kids about what happened.  They know more than you think they do and deserve to hear the facts from you.  Be sure to use developmentally appropriate language and detail.  A typical three year old does not have the emotional or mental capacity to understand the complexities of mob mentality and perception.  They do, however, understand that different people have different opinions and that everyone wants treated fairly and deserves to live in safety.  They also understand that leaders and words have power.
 
2.  Share still images that allow your children to have accurate mental images.  Showing an entire video of the Capitol break-in is probably not appropriate for most school age children.  Allowing them to see images of broken windows, the women carrying to safety the case of electoral college votes, or protestors gathering outside the Capitol building can give them snapshots of the event that fill in the missing pieces they have from the uncertainty and from their lack of life experience.
 
3.  Turn off the radio, tv news, and news notifications on your phone.  As caregivers our first and most important responsibility is the safety and well being of our children.  Be in control of the information they see and hear in your home.  This is also a good time to review the filters and parent controls on your children’s cell phones, computers, tablets and other devices to ensure you are doing your best to safeguard against unwanted information inadvertently entering your home.
 
4.  Remember children need to process the information just as adults need.  In young children this looks like playing out their reality.  You may see your children re-enacting their interpretation of recent events.  You likely have already seen and heard your children play COVID-themed enactments.  Older children may talk about it with you or with their friends, draw, write, tweet or post on social media (if permitted) their thoughts, questions, and opinions.  This is normal and to be encouraged.
 
5.  Encourage action.  To regain a sense of empowerment after a trauma finding “doing steps” is key.  Helping your children find where their power lies and appropriately exerting it is not only a rebuilding step after a trauma, it is a life lesson they will carry into adulthood.  Doing steps can be simple:  drawing a picture that tells the story of what happened, saying a prayer or meditation to regain a sense of peace and center, playing outside and breathing in the cold air as a reminder of safety.  It can also include writing a letter to a congressperson, talking to someone with differing political views, thinking about someone you know and love who believes differently than you.
 

 

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Practice Makes Present

Practice Makes Present

by Michele Minehart, Community Educator

Letting go is a lifetime practice but often feels very cerebral. “Easier said than done,” we might say. So if you’re practicing an attitude of release, here are a few things to support your practice. 

  1. Focus on your exhale. Notice what it feels like to release the breath. Take your time exhaling, putting a brief pause at the bottom of the breath. Notice the space you have to begin to take in the next inhale.  

  2. Practice the mantra: This no longer serves me. 

  3. Use your hands. When sitting in meditation or prayer, or even just to begin a meeting or other daily activity, pause and uncurl your fingers from your fists. Take a moment to let your body come into a pose of non-grasping so that you can receive. 

  4. Sit with it. Perhaps the best way to let go is to sit with the feelings you have around what you need to release.  

  5. Write yourself a permission note. It’s okay to make a decision and release yourself of guilt and shame. 

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Let Go: 5 Things to Release During Election Season

Let Go: 5 Things to Release During Election Season

by Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW

 

We wouldn’t serve you well if we didn’t address the political climate of 2020. While each of our therapists and staff hold their own unique political opinions, as an office we simply encourage you to exercise your voice in our democracy. While taking in the information you need to align your vote to your values, it’s important to consider how to engage with those around you, specifically online, in these last days of the election season. 

    1. Let go of the need to be right. New information is always available and releasing the need to be correct and choosing instead curiosity will lead to more beneficial conversations. 
    2. Let go of rigidity. Holding to a stance because it’s how you’ve always done it is a reason to examine and observe your motivation. 
    3. Let go of being louder. You don’t need to be mean, abrasive, or nasty in order to catch other people’s attention. Thoughtfulness and authenticity is more powerful. 
    4. Let go of power-hoarding. Remember to value people over position, be it in homes, communities or in national governance. 
    5. Let go of dualistic thinking. We do live in a 2-party system, but not every decision or issue is this or that. From all parties, look to leaders who value nuance and utilize creativity in finding solutions to problems.  
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The Beginning of Knowledge

The Beginning of Knowledge

by Michele Minehart, Community Educator

Jon Kabat Zinn uses the concept of the Beginner’s Mind in his 9 Attitudes of Mindfulness. This way of thinking asks a person to come into a situation without assumptions or expectations, and it’s the posture for true learning. The Beginner’s Mind allows for “I don’t know yet” and frees you to listen deeply before making any decisions or judgments. 

Practicing the Beginner’s Mind is essential because it’s not natural to our brain’s protective wiring. If you have ever researched buying a new car, you may have experienced that suddenly every car you see on the road is the car you’re considering. The world did not suddenly produce more Honda Odysseys once you decided you wanted one, but rather your brain picks up on that information, positive or negative, and associates it with the information it’s currently processing. We do this – pick up information and associate it with our daily experiences, beliefs, and behaviors – because the mind tends to be dualistic, categorizing things into good/bad, safe/unsafe, and other groups. 

The Beginner’s Mind asks us to momentarily set aside what we already know for the opportunity to learn something new about our present situation. 

Over the past several months, the Beginner’s Mind has been one of our best friends. Taking such an approach, we can offer ourselves grace. The Beginner’s Mind reminds us we’ve never been here before. This is new. And there is always something to learn from newness. 

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Possibility within change

Possibility within change

by Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW


Seeing Possibility Within the Change

The meditation for July 16th in my Greg Henry Quinn book 365 Meditations for Teachers is: “Everything in Life is Cyclical.” This axiom provides a warning: if things are going well, prepare yourself. It also provides eternal hope. No matter how bad things are, they must eventually improve.” It’s helpful to keep this in mind as we move further into the summer and closer to a school year that remains yet undefined.

Knowing and believing in the inevitability of change can bring us peace.  As bad as things seem, they will get better.  Really savor how calm things are now. At some point this will shift.  Accepting change opens us up to all the possibilities and opportunities change brings.

What happens when we don’t like the opportunities change brings?

This is where acceptance is crucial. As we have said, to accept something does not necessarily mean you like what is happening. It means you’ve chosen to stop fighting against or running from it, and instead recognize it is here.  It is what it is. Acceptance changes you. It does not change the situation.

Because there are so many unknowns in the world right now, it’s important to focus on what we do know for sure.

  • I am here in this moment and I am breathing.
  • I am preparing my lessons to be as effective as possible either in-person or through video.
  • I am more prepared for remote learning this fall than I was in the spring.
  • Even though I have anxiety about the upcoming school year, I fully and deeply trust myself to make decisions that are safest for me and my family.
  • I know that I will plan to start waking early on August 1st to prepare myself for school year hours, and that, realistically, I will not actually begin this practice until August 20th.

Quinn also says this about change: “When a child learns to accept change without fear, he or she then affects change within himself or herself by learning. A teacher [can] be the comfort of continuity from which new and exciting things spring.”

As parents and educators, we are in the position to be the constants for our children. This does not require us to ignore our own fears or try to fake our way through them. Children, as you know, quickly see through that. Even if you aren’t seeing yourself as a wellspring of “comfort of continuity”, your children and students are looking to you. Model to them authenticity, openness to new possibilities, and rolling with the unexpected.

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Treatment during COVID

Treatment during COVID

by Michele Minehart, Community Educator

As we’ve shared with our clients already, it’s important to continue with mental health treatment when possible during our current pandemic to provide stability to more tumultuous times. But many people who aren’t already under the care of a mental health practitioner may notice that with continued uncertainty, they also be feeling a bit unsteady. 

Based on our operating definition of trauma, the COVID-19 experience meets a few hallmarks:

  1. The event is unexpected and unplanned. That sense of, “life isn’t supposed to go this way” can lead to traumatic outcomes. 
  2. The event is life changing. Our day-to-day structure and and contents have shifted considerably.   
  3. The event threatens our safety. Especially for those who are more immune-compromised, the statistics on our pandemic make us fearful for our health. 
  4. There is nothing we can do about the outcomes; a person feels powerless to effect change in the situation. 

It’s important to acknowledge that everybody experiences challenging times differently. While there might be ways of coping that are more or less healthy, there’s no “wrong” way to deal with trauma. For many people, survival is enough – at least to begin. 

For those who have not experienced mental health treatment, there’s likely a few things happening under the surface that you should be aware of:

  • We’re being asked to become careful about things like hygiene; these behaviors might melt into other areas and become more hyper-vigilance or cause anxiety around cleanliness. This can become a heavy burden and a slippery-slope. 
  • This may be bringing up unresolved events and experiences from the past, even things you thought were done and over. The emotions you feel may be triggering the emotions you felt in past events, and you may find yourself responding to today’s crisis in a way that feels “off” from what you would anticipate your response would be. This is quite normal with forms of trauma and is something to explore. 
  • This is normal. Handling traumatic events isn’t easy and no one does it the same way. 
  • It’s okay to ask for help. We see the best outcomes with trauma when people find support from others. Especially if your friends or family aren’t available to give you their ear with compassion and empathy, then please seek out the help of a professional. 
  • We are currently taking new clients, even during this strange time of social distancing. Mind Body Health Associates have had great success with our HIPPA-compliant Zoom platform and our clients have remarked about it’s ease of use and the comfort of being from home. 
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