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Helping Kids Feel Secure

Ask. Dr. Matt: Parents' emotional regulation and control more important than ever


Matt Thompson is a pediatrician at Spokane's Kids Clinic
  • Matt Thompson is a pediatrician at Spokane's Kids Clinic

Hopefully, the many who voted for DJT did not do so as an endorsement of crassness, xenophobia or hatred — but rather as an an anti-same ol', same ol' action. It will be interesting to see how things go, once things get real 'round D.C. I expect like many successful business people, our President-elect will carefully choose a team comprised of individuals of high integrity who are experienced and dedicated to the success and future of all.

Since I am no expert regarding politics or the economy, I will not speculate about how or why the election results ended up the way that they did. Nor will I try to predict how or when the future state of our nation might change. But, as a pediatrician, husband, dad, neighbor and human, I can give my opinion about how we should try to manage the impact all of this has on our kids.

Following the election results, I couldn't help but think of the American cinema classic Titanic. I was very touched by the scene toward the end when, as the water rushed in down the stairs and through the hallways of the grand vessel, a mother was calmly tucking her children in, telling them a last bedtime story. That was excruciating to watch, but I think it was an amazing demonstration of one of the most important things we do as parents. While not necessarily denying the realities at hand, we need to provide the solid, steady calm to help contain the anxieties and fears of our children during times of crisis and certain change.

Of late, I've heard of middle-school kids getting in arguments over the Affordable Care Act and NAFTA. I'm all for spirited debate, but I have to believe that these kids have been absorbing a lot of parental passion, vitriol and fear. We have got to moderate our responses. If your toddler stumbles in her short pants, skinning her knees and dropping her lollipop in the dirt, you don't want to shriek, wail and chastise her for wasting food. You want to say "Whoa, good thing you're a professional stunt kid!" then help her up, give her a hug, wipe her lollipop off on your shirt, pop it in your mouth to give it a spit shine and hand it back to her.

Now is a great time for us as parents to demonstrate good emotional regulation and control. To quote the late, great child developmental Yoda, Stanley Greenspan, M.D., from his post-9/11 book The Secure Child: "We need to help our children cope with the frightening feelings that the media coverage of disasters and the anxieties of adults bring up." We needn't avoid discussing our opinions in front of and with our children, but let's watch the rants and tirades. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate leadership and promote resilience both in our children and our communities.

Greenspan suggests four principles that help our kids feel secure and protected. 1) Spending time together as a family: This provides the safe space for kids to share their uncertainty and fears. 2) Expressing feelings: This requires taking the time to listen, and holding off on a hurried reassurance. Listen closely, empathize and summarize back to them what you hear. Then, after a few minutes and hugs... 3) Providing reassurances in realistic terms (as challenging as that can be). 4) Contribute to and help others in need: This demonstrates that we are not alone, and we live in a world where people look out for each other and take steps to be part of solutions.

After a loss, good coaches don't spend the precious postgame learning moment disparaging the referee, or the other coach's questionable recruitment practices; they might point out strengths of the performance, as well as areas that could have been better. They tell the players to get a meal and some good rest and show up the next day, ready to give everything they've got to prepare for the next competition.

I think it's time that as parents, we stop complaining about the referees and our disdain for the other team's players and coaches, and move on to preparing for what's next. The ensuing family discussions should allow our children to better understand and feel empathy and hope. So come on, folks — let's turn that wall into a bridge.


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