I hugged my boys a bit longer at bedtime after a bombing in Ankara, Turkey, where we used to live. Then I turned to the go-bags I still hadn’t packed. I thought about what my kids would need in an emergency.
Beyond the basic things needed for their emergency go-bags, certain things could help my boys emotionally face any crisis with resilience. Emotional and mental strength will sustain a person long after his or her physical support is gone.
A basic go-bag includes the following elements: identification information, money and valuables, communication devices and strategies, and physical sustenance, among other essentials. These must-haves double to prepare your child both physically and psychologically. Here’s how:
Identification information. I gathered our passports for the go-bags. In an emergency we may need to prove who we are. But beyond basic name and country identification, I must also make sure my sons know who they really are.
In the summer of 2001, Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush conducted research in New York City assessing how much children know about their family’s history. They were astonished by the results. A New York Times article summarizing the study explains that the researchers concluded that “the more children knew about their family’s history the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
Shortly after their study, the terrorist attacks in New York took place. The researchers reassessed the children. “The ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”
The article goes on to say, “Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have…a strong “inter-generational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”
Power of Moms is packed full of ideas to help children develop a strong sense of belonging. Saren Loosli explained, “When [children] are part of a family with clearly explained and fair expectations as well as meaningful daily rituals like family dinner time, family prayer and/or special tuck-in time routines as well as traditions for special occasions, they feel safe and their bonds to their parents and siblings are greatly enhanced. When families discuss a shared family identity that is manifest through activities, rules, routines and traditions, their positive sense of belonging is enhanced even further (personal communication from 2/25/16).”
Valuables. Cash and credit cards are in my bag so we can function in society. But the bombings led me to think about how little I care about material things. What does matter? My children. But do they really know that? I tell them I love them, but with all my lists and projects, hurrying here and there, do they feel it? I must make sure that they do because that will carry a much higher value during a crisis.
Parenting expert Amy McCready recommends at least 20 minutes a day of “special time” for each child. It can be broken up into 10-minute segments, depending on your child’s needs and attention span, but it should be one-on-one, free from distractions and screens, spent doing something your child wants to do. McCready claims that this ritual alone will build a better bond with your child.
Tell your child you love them in a way that he or she best understands. What is your child’s “love language”? Does your child best feel love through words, touch, gifts, time or service?
Accessible ways of communication. My emergency go-bag has a phone card, cell phones, phone numbers and my radio. I want to be sure that in an emergency I have an open line of communication. Do my children know who they can trust and open up to during a crisis? To ensure that you are one of the people they will confide in, start talking and listening to your children now! If you regularly talk together about daily things, then it won’t seem so intimidating when they need to talk with you about bigger issues.
I have listened to many descriptions of Minecraft worlds and retellings of Calvin and Hobbes comics, all for the sake of letting my son know that what’s important to him is important to me. I want him to know that I will listen when he talks.
When do your children talk to you? Meal time? After school? Bedtime? Does your time together mostly consist of your commands and demands? Or do you give them a chance to share their thoughts and ideas? And do you listen? When your children talk to you, stop what you are doing, look them in the eye and listen.
Blogger Liz Evans suggests alternatives to asking “How was school today?” so you get more than “Fine” as a response. For example, “Tell me something that made you laugh today” or “What word did your teacher say the most today?” or “What was your favorite part of lunch?”
Investing in communication now will keep the lines open when your child really needs to talk about something that is making him or her anxious or depressed.
Protective covering. What covers your children? In addition to clothing, wearing a coat of resilience will help protect your child from the storms of life. Resilience is something that must be taught and practiced. It will be your child’s first line of defense in any crisis.
In an article entitled “Raising Resilient Children,” family therapist Lyle J. Burrup wrote, “How well children respond to setbacks depends largely on how well their parents helped them develop the attitude and skills of resilience.” He also said, “As children become resilient they see life as challenging and ever changing, but they believe they can cope with those challenges and changes. They view mistakes and weaknesses as opportunities to learn, and they accept that losing may precede winning.”
You can help children develop resilience by allowing natural and logical consequences to happen. You can respect your child’s decisions, even if they lead to negative outcomes. You can praise and encourage effort, not just accomplishments. Recognize that developing resilience takes time; be patient.
Physical Sustenance. Healthy food, plenty of water, and adequate sleep are physical needs that have effects on emotional and mental well-being. But there is one more source of fuel for your emotional go-bag: attitude. A good attitude could sustain your child even in very hard circumstances. William James, American philosopher and psychologist said, “The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
So how do you teach your child to have a good attitude? Children take clues from you, then model and reflect what they see. If you have a good attitude about life, even in the midst of your challenges, it is likely your children will too, thereby giving them the tools to endure and grow during those trials.
Develop a family or personal mantra, something to focus on and to help you stay positive when things get hard. “You can do this hard thing,” “It will all work out,” and “Hold fast, stay true” are examples.
Finally, regularly “update” and “repack” the emotional go-bag. We don’t know when or why, but at some point your children will need these resources. It may be a bomb, a move, challenges at school, the death of a grandparent, health struggles, or trouble with friends. Whatever it may be, these tools will help your child survive and thrive during any crisis.
Note from the Author: I originally wrote this article while still living in Turkey, but after a military coup and several more bombings, my children and I have left, leaving Dad to finish his work at the embassy. I am really having to follow my own advice now!
QUESTION: What can you do as a mother to prepare your child for emotional challenges?
CHALLENGE: Spend one-on-one time with your child this week, really listen to him or tell him stories about your family. Make a goal to do something to fill your child’s emotional Go Bag.
Edited by Lisa Hoelzer and Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Anna Jenkins.