Handing out the peanuts.
What to do when the parenting plane hits turbulence.
One day we each go from being the child looking to the adults around us to make sense of the world and fix our problems when things don't make sense or feel scary, to all of a sudden being the one having little faces looking up expectantly at you. Now you have become the one who is expected to have the answers. On this day many of us find ourselves feeling desperately unprepared, looking for the next more adult adult around us. In these moments we realise the grown ups never really had all the answers.
2-5 year olds ask an average of 300 questions per day, "Why the sky is blue, how tall is a giraffe and where does rain come from?"
Most of the time we take this in our stride, answering the questions that decode their world. Now with google on our side we don't even have to make up all the answers. Sometimes however our children wonder about some of the biggest questions in life, the ones we ourselves can find difficult to answer. How do we respond when our children come to us with big wonderings.
Why don't Mummy/Daddy love each other anymore? What is cancer? What happens when we die?
Firstly I need you to know, you don't need to know the perfect answers to these questions to do a good job. In fact your biggest job in these moments is much more akin to the flight attendants during turbulence. As a passenger on a plane we are looking to the faces of our cabin crew for indicators of safety. If we hit turbulence you are unlikely to feel comforted by them becoming distressed racing to the cabin and trying to take over the landing process. When the turbulence hits instead we need them to keep breathing, remain calm and continue handing out the snacks to signal to all the passengers that even when things may feel unsteady we are safe. When challenge hits our family the principal is the same, your children are going to be looking to you to see if you can navigate them through this challenge. What ever we can do to communicate safety and stability can not be under valued.
This is not to say that you need to hide all of your own emotion. It is absolutely okay for you to feel scared or sad and for your children to see some signs of this. In fact in these moments we can teach them that even when we feel worried we can find strength within ourselves and through the support of other, but more than anything else we need to show them that we are confident that no matter what we feel that we can navigate these worries. If you child catches you off guard with a question you are not ready to discuss then we recommend using a response such as "I love your curiosity, I want to help you understand in the best way possible so I'm going to do some thinking and I will share my thoughts with you later today (or insert suitable time)."
When having these conversations we recommend prioritising sharing with children age appropriate truths. An age appropriate truth takes into consideration the developmental level of our children, whether it is an adult concern or a child worry, the level of impact it will likely have on their lives (eg if we are anxious about affording groceries our children have no control in this and will likely not notice a huge difference if we confidently explain that our shopping will look a little different this week), and the nature of supports they have. Many conversations are ongoing with no need to rush to give all the information in one sitting. Working out how to structure these conversations and/or having your own support in having them can be invaluable. This support may come from friends, family, therapist, the school community or other support agencies.
You may feel tempted to lie or avoid the conversation all together. Often we find lying to children to protect them leads to them picking up incongruent messages or finding out about a concern in an uncontrolled manner. Instead take the lead deciding exactly what you would like to share and plan how to do this, parentline can coach you through these decisions 1300 30 1300.
Life throws us curveballs and while you may be the adult no one expects you to have all the answers. Be kind to yourself, ask for help and keep handing out those metaphorical peanuts to remind your family that no matter the obstacle you can face it together.