Raising compassionate kids in a violent world

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorEditor’s Note:  This post was originally published on 6/24/2016. Through this year’s AP Month theme, “Nurturing Peace: Parenting for World Harmony,” we have been focusing on promoting peace and harmony in the home as well as around the world. This article is a great reminder that despite the many challenges violence can pose, we can still cultivate compassion and peace in our children.

API promotes parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents. For life.

So they can take those bonds with them into their adult lives and share them with their children. And their children can do the same.

A life cycle of compassion and connection.

Today, we are featuring resources from the National Association of School Psychologists that offer guidelines for dealing with the difficult subject of children and violence — in particular, war and terrorism.

In recent years, increasingly, there have been numerous heartbreaking mass shootings and terror activities in the United States and around the globe.

In the aftermath of such distressing incidents, many parents are wondering how to react: How much information? What and how should we communicate to our kids? And as we reflect on such painful incidents and move towards healing, another imperative question we need to ask ourselves is, What role do we play, as parents to children who will become the adults of tomorrow?

With ongoing wars, mass shootings and terrorist threats, it can be challenging to escape the display of violence from the extensive media and internet coverage — it’s a heavy dose for children to bear. While we should do our best to limit our kids’ exposure to violence, we should also acknowledge that this is the reality of the world we live in, and we need to navigate around helping children find comfort and provide them with the support they need. It is our responsibility as parents and caregivers to address our children’s emotional needs — to that end, they need us to help them understand and cope with the phenomenon of violence.

heart-pain-shadowIt’s unrealistic to think that we can completely shield our kids from being exposed to incidents, such as the recent one in Orlando. Albeit, as parents, we can foster a secure environment in our homes for our children to be resilient in the face of tragedies. API promotes a secure emotional bond in the parent-child relationship — cultivating trust, a sense of security, social competence, confidence, and empathetic qualities in a child…all of which are beneficial when experiencing adversities.

Open communication, honesty, and trust between a parent and a child are essential ingredients for developing a strong relationship — one that is valuable when dealing with sensitive, emotional-trigger situations. This guide explores tips for parents and educators to help children cope with terrorism.

Naturally, children may feel angry and frightened in their reaction to acts of violence. To help them work through emotionally charged issues in a positive way, is it helpful to teach them compassion, empathy, and kindness in our homes and our schools.

The following are some helpful tips to consider in promoting compassion and acceptance in crisis:

  1. Model compassion and acceptance of differences — Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives.
  2. Provide useful information — Accurate information about people, events, reactions, and feelings is empowering. Use language that is developmentally appropriate for children.
  3. Stop any type of harassment or bullying immediately — Make it clear that such behavior, in any form (in person, online, social media) is unacceptable. Talk to the children involved about the reasons for their behavior.
  4. Explore children’s fears — Even children who can describe what happened may not be able to express fears, questions, or describe assumptions or conclusions they may have made. Use activities, role-playing, and discussions to explore their fears about the events and their feelings about various groups from diverse cultures or lifestyles.
  5. Identify “heroes” of varying backgrounds involved in response to traumatic events — These include firefighters, police officers, rescue workers, military personnel, public officials, medical workers, teachers, faith leaders, public figures, and regular citizens who work to help keep students, families, schools, and communities safe.
  6. Read books with your children or students that address prejudice and hate — There are many, many stories appropriate for varying age groups that can help children think about and define their feelings regarding these issues.

Parents are their children’s first and most empowering role models. Meeting our children’s needs by nurturing them with sensitivity, kindness, and compassion serves as a model for children to observe and learn how to conduct themselves in this world. We are making the most precious investment there could be: As today’s children will become tomorrow’s adults, a life cycle of compassion and connection will pave the way for a more peaceful, compassionate world for future generations.

Raising kids with grit…and an interview with Jane Stevens of ACEs Too High

siblings-937393-mAttachment Parenting International (API) is directly involved in building resilience in communities across the nation and around the world through its local API Support Groups and accredited API Leaders by supporting secure parent-child attachments.

It cannot be emphasized enough how important secure attachments are. To be sure, resilience is something we all want for our children — actually, resilience is something all children need.

This scientific-sounding term, “resilience,” may seem really abstract and difficult to define. Perhaps you’ve heard of resilience by its other names. Synonyms include: grit, hardiness, toughness, adaptability, rebound, perseverance, tenacity.

In the most basic definition, resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. I like to think of it as emotional toughness.

It’s the ability to rebound from frustrations and disappointments, to not get lost in life’s inevitable valleys between the high points, to persevere — all the while staying true to oneself, remaining passionate about life and never giving up hope.

Secure parent-child attachments and resilience-building go hand-in-hand. Positive discipline, coupled with warmth and nurturing, makes for an ideal child-raising atmosphere.

There is no need to expose our children to harsh situations with the misguided intention to raise them with grit. True grit — resilience — is not a mean-spirited or emotionally avoidant individual who has grown up building walls around his or her vulnerability. True grit is the ability to feel all emotions and to know how to manage healthy responses to those emotions, no matter the situation, without feeling a need to avoid or destructively act-out his or her strong emotions.

API helps parents learn how to develop this true grit within their children. API is a resilience-building resource, funded entirely by donations, yet offered free to all parents no matter their income class, life circumstance or location. Evidence-based parenting — like the approach advocated through API — is one of several areas of community-based resilience-building practices.

jane stevensJane Stevens, founder of ACEs Too High and the ACEs Connection Network, elaborates on resilience and its opposite — trauma — in this API interview.

API: ACEs are integral to understanding resilience. ACEs basically outline the childhood environments that are more likely to predispose people to grow up without developing a high level of resilience. Jane, what are ACEs?

JANE: ACEs are Adverse Childhood Experiences.

ACEs usually refers to the 10 types of childhood adversity that were measured in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, a family member who’s an alcoholic or addicted to other drugs, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, witnessing a mother being abused, a family member in prison, and loss of a parent through separation or divorce.

That doesn’t mean that there are no other types of childhood trauma. There are, of course: living in a war zone, witnessing a sibling being abused, witnessing violence outside the home, and others. It’s just that in the ACE Study, only 10 were measured.

API: Thank you, Jane, for providing this quiz for readers to learn their own ACE score (as well as their own Resilience score).

JANE: Many people who learn about the ACE Study and who calculate their own ACE score say they’re relieved, especially if they have a high ACE score. They say that their life finally makes sense.

They also understand that they’re not bad. They coped as best they could under dire circumstances. And knowing that they’re not bad people opens the opportunity for them to change their lives. It’s quite empowering information.

API: Looking at your website, we can see that higher ACE scores are associated with adult alcoholism, chronic depression, perpetrating domestic violence, smoking, being raped, suicide attempts, teen sex and pregnancy, employee absenteeism and job performance. From your website:

“At the same time that the ACE Study was being done, parallel research on kids’ brains found that toxic stress physically damages a child’s developing brain. …

When children are overloaded with stress hormones, they’re in flight, fright or freeze mode. They can’t learn in school. They often have difficulty trusting adults or developing healthy relationships with peers (i.e., they become loners). To relieve their anxiety, depression, guilt, shame and/or inability to focus, they turn to easily available biochemical solutions like Marijuana, if your son us medicated  check out this online dispensary canada for a great variety of strains for medical use.

Using drugs or overeating or engaging in risky behavior leads to consequences as a direct result of this behavior. For example, smoking can lead to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or lung cancer. Overeating can lead to obesity and diabetes. In addition, there is increasing research that shows that severe and chronic stress leads to bodily systems producing an inflammatory response that leads to disease.”

This is significant on an individual level, so what does this do to a community?

JANE: Communities whose residents have high ACE scores and few resilience factors are difficult places to live.

Essentially, the community is in a state of constant and chronic traumatic stress. This means that it’s difficult for people to thrive, or to raise children who will thrive.

API: What are your hopes in helping people learn more about ACEs, their own ACE and Resilience scores, and creating a network of resilience-building groups?

JANE: Once people learn about the consequences of ACEs, the effects of toxic stress and that trauma-informed practices and building resilience can create healthy individuals, families, communities and systems, they can never look at a homeless person without seeing an abused child.

They can never look at a young man in juvenile detention without wondering why the schools he attended did not intervene in his journey from the classroom to prison.

They can never look at communities without wondering if they are implementing trauma-informed and resilience-building practices. And if they are not, they begin asking: “How can we start?”

API: It’s wonderful that people like Jane Stevens are working to raise awareness of ACEs and the effect of traumatic childhood stress. In addition, through her ACEs Connection Network, she is working to guide connections between trauma-informed and resilience-building groups to help individuals with high ACE scores find pathways to healing. This is much needed.

API works at the issue of trauma and resilience from another angle — prevention. It’s clear that the key to positively impacting a community is to first address the family, to get to the heart of the matter — the parent-child attachment relationship — in order to both prevent high ACE scores and to help our children develop resilience.

On Jane’s website, she writes about how resilience fits in with ACEs:

“Fortunately, brains and lives are somewhat plastic. The appropriate integration of resilience factors born out of ACE concepts — such as asking for help, developing trusting relationships, forming a positive attitude, listening to feelings — can help people improve their lives.”

This is exactly how children are raised in evidence-based parenting approaches, such as is advocated by API.

Peace coverRead the entire API interview with Jane Stevens in The Attached Family‘s online “Nurturing Peace” issue.