Written by: Sandi Wollum, Head of School, Seabury School
It often seems that our kids’ favorite questions are “Why?” and “What if?” Most of the time, even when we are challenged to find the answers, we celebrate our kids’ curiosity and recognize that their endless questions are driven by their insatiable thirst for knowledge.
The violence that unfolded in our nation’s capital on January 6, on top of the global pandemic and civil unrest we have experienced in the past year, have made the “Why?” and “What if?” questions overwhelming for many families and educators. We are grown-up gifted kids with plenty of “Whys?” and “What ifs?” of our own and we are struggling to find answers. What do we tell our children and how do we address their concerns?
It is important that parents and teachers are ready to help gifted children process the big feelings and big questions they struggle with in challenging times. It helps when programs and curriculum are designed to help kids learn how to find relevant, accurate information and form well-reasoned responses. Programs that emphasize inquiry learning help students learn how to ask relevant questions and find answers, and can help provide a framework when students are desperate to know more. Teaching civics and citizenship as well as providing opportunities to develop skills in leadership and participate in community service can also help our kids grow up seeing themselves as innovators and changemakers rather than helpless against the events of an unfair world.
Over many years in gifted education, there are strategies I have found to be successful both at home and at school during difficult times as we week to support our children, address their fears, and provide reassurance:
- Kids react differently to stressful situations than adults. Your students might not seem particularly concerned about what happened or may be more interested in the facts and details than anything else. Our kids’ intellect is their super-power and they often start there as they try to make sense of something new. Emotions may (or may not) come later.
- When a child has questions, listen. The listening is as important – probably more important – than the answers. When you’re ready to respond, seek to be age-appropriate but honest, even when being honest means admitting that you don’t have answers. Resist the temptation to over-explain and answer more than they ask. If they have more questions, they will ask. Letting your children know you hear them, even when you don’t have answers, provides support and comfort.
- Be aware of children’s exposure to news coverage, and, depending on age, social media as well. For younger children, parents may need to minimize the news they’re listening to when their children are present. For older kids, you model strategies such as taking breaks from news and social media when they start to feel overwhelmed.
- In the words of Mr. Rogers, when we are in a time of crisis, look for the helpers. Or BE the helper. At Seabury School, we have found that when our students are worried and upset, finding tangible ways to help makes a big difference. Especially if the kids can be involved in initiating and planning the project or activity. Start a penny drive. Write a letter. Make a poster. Even small actions are powerful because they can make a difference both for the student and the issue being addressed.
- Encourage children to explore and use strategies for self-care such as mindfulness, deep breathing, talking walks, news breaks, yoga, or whatever works. Model self care and incorporate strategies into the school day when possible.
These are difficult times. For children who understand much more than they can emotionally process, and who have a strong sense of justice, the confusion and fear and uncertainty can be overwhelming in the best of times. But with support, even in times like these, our children can find their way through the challenges and use what they have learned to become tomorrow’s leaders, innovators and changemakers.