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“Don’t Worry” Doesn’t Work…

I don’t often work directly with children these days, but I love it when I do. I love their openness, their honesty, the absence of judgement that most of us grown-ups are shackled with.

And last week I had this pleasure; I was being filmed leading activities which fire up brain connectivity and change biochemistry, and in the spirit of ‘blue-sky thinking’ I asked them to write a note;

“What would you change in the world if you could?”

I usually get all kinds of random answers, and I did get a few; “We’d be able to bring our pets to school”… “To eat whatever I like without getting sick.”

But, even though these children were only 9 and 10 years old, far more of their responses reflected the weight that so many young minds are carrying; worries about war, their frustration at unnecessary suffering, their fatigue at an unkind world.

I can only speculate, of course, but their awareness of troubles that shouldn’t be their concern is telling; how much more magnified they’ve been made by the experience of the last two years. It’s something I’m hearing about from parents and professionals alike.

Now, more than ever, we don’t want our children fretting about global conflict (or anything!), but we can’t just tell them not to worry, that everything’s going to be fine, and expect that to suffice.
The world told them that two years ago, and it wasn’t fine.

Covid infiltrated through the media, and their consciousness before becoming a very stark and enduring reality, so if the children you live or work with are anxious about the state of the world, I’d say it’s well placed.
And that reality has consumed so much of their young lives; I have to remind myself, often, what 25% of my eight year old’s time on the planet has been like…

When did “There’s nothing to worry about” ever stop anyone from worrying anyway?
It may not be our intention, of course, but “Don’t worry about it” can feel dismissive, and that’s what can stop kids sharing their worries with us.

So what do you say instead when you don’t want to exacerbate their concerns, but can’t answer their questions?

✅ Tell them that you agree that what’s going on in the world is scary. You can’t take the worries away but validation in itself can be SO reassuring.

✅ Let them know they can share whatever’s troubling them, always, and that you’ll listen, even if you can’t solve the problem.

✅ Acknowledge how disturbing it is that any human mind could justify these kinds of actions.
But also that the world is full of solidarity; of peace-makers, kind hearts, resilience, support, compassion, empathy and courage.

✅ And show the children you live and work with that they belong in that camp, surrounded by love, protection and safety, even if there is some good fortune attached.

The biggest problem that has rattled through our generation of children for the last two years, IMO, has been powerlessness.
We don’t talk about this often enough, but losing your power is scary. 
Helplessness is at the power of any trauma response.

The majority of children are yet to recover that sense of agency and so, as yet another wave breaks over the world over which they have no control, an antidote to that can simply be more autonomy.

Whether your kids want to contribute to the efforts to rally around Ukraine, or simply to feel more influential in their own lives, make sure they’re strengthening their ‘personal power’ muscle.

Give them problems to solve, decisions to make, responsibilities to master.
They can’t make the world’s problems go away, but they will be better equipped to ride this next period of turbulence if they feel like competent and autonomous human beings! 💙💛

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