Monthly Archives: December 2012

How Do We Talk To Our Children About Newtown?

We are inundated with media coverage of the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut. A parent’s worst nightmare, that a monster is terrorizing and potentially killing their child, has become a reality. We have stared unbelieving at the images of terrified children being led to safety; we have shuddered to try to imagine being one of the parents, one of the teachers, one of the children; we have cried, we have mourned; we are terrified for those children, for our children, for all children. The media discussion of this tragedy is constant, and sometimes difficult for us to bear. If it is tough for us, how are our children dealing with this tragedy? One of our principal jobs as parents is to do all that we can to help our children feel safe. How are we talking to them about Newtown and what are we saying to try to help them cope??

Perhaps you received a letter from your children’s school suggesting ways to best communicate with your children about this tragedy. Our school psychologist’s tips for helping our children cope included the following helpful suggestions:

Don’t be afraid to talk about the tragedy and related emotions. Find out what your child is thinking or feeling and help reassure him that you are there for him.

Reassure your son that adults and other professionals work very hard to protect him – let your son know that there are many systems in place at the school to keep everyone there safe.

Limit media exposure, especially for the younger ones. If your child is watching or reading reports related to the incident, join in and talk with him.

Don’t be surprised if your child’s mood fluctuates or if s/he becomes clingy. Respond by letting your child know that you are there for her physically and emotionally.

If your child has a caregiver/nanny, they too may have a strong reaction to this event. Have a conversation with the caregiver and check in to find out how they are, as well as to share with them how they might respond if your child speaks to them about this event.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has also assembled tips for parents to help them talk to their children about this issue. Among the many helpful suggestions in their document, found here, are developmentally appropriate ways to have these conversations:

Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.

Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

The NASP also suggests the following points to emphasize when talking to children:

Schools are safe places. School staff work with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.

The school building is safe because … (cite specific school procedures).

We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.

There is a difference between reporting, tattling and gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.

Don’t dwell on the worst possibilities. Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and the probability that it will affect our school.

Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.

Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.

While focusing on helping our kids feel safe we have to think about this in a context broader than this horrific incident. As President Obama said in his press conference on the day of the event, “As a country, we have been through this too many times, whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago.” He reminds us that as long as our children are being felled by senseless gun violence, in suburban neighborhoods or on city streets, we are not doing all that we can to keep them safe. In his speech at the memorial service this evening in Newtown, he suggests that he is ready to do more: “In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.” Encouraging words, and we hope to hear more soon.

As the days and weeks of this tragedy unfold, surely bringing more unsettling concepts and images, let us focus on our children and do all that we can to help them cope.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Parents, Saving Our Sons

Notes from a GCP Dad: Tell Your Sons to Step Away from the Nik•Niks

Today’s post is from GCP Dad Darrell Williams, Chicagoan and father of a 21-year-old son. Darrell has had a long career in the financial services industry, and currently works at a leading investment firm.

Raise your hand if you know what a Nik•Nik is.

Anyone? Not even you seriously old school brothers and sisters?

A Nik•Nik is a shirt. A very popular shirt in the mid-1970s. Nik•Niks were so popular that some brothers were willing to give up a body part to acquire a couple of these sartorial masterpieces, and the true “ballers” of the of the era had several. As you can see in this link, Nik•Niks are tight-fitting shirts of man-made material that came in a near infinite number of color and pattern combinations. Of course, this provided the near infinite opportunity for the Nik•Nik company to lighten the wallets of young men of every race to the tune of about $35.00 per shirt. Chump change you say? Perhaps for some. But my solid brown Nik•Nik shirt represented 15 hours of lugging office supplies for Stevens Maloney back in the day.

Everyone has a few Nik•Nik equivalents that they can find buried deep in that closet back at Mom’s house. For some it might be that Members Only jacket. For others it might be that Starter jacket or those Calvin Klein jeans. Perhaps it’s that FUBU gear, or those Phat Farm or Baby Phat jeans. They all have two things in common: today you wouldn’t wear them outside of a Halloween party even if they actually fit – which they don’t. And most importantly, today you would rather have the money you spent on all that gear back in your pocket.

That $35.00 I worked so hard to scrape together to acquire my Nik•Nik shirt would be $752 today if I had left the shirt in the store and bought and held the S&P500 index instead. Would I trade my Nik•Nik shirt today for $752 dollars? Of course I would. I look back on that teenager who worked so hard to acquire that shirt and wish someone had pulled him aside and told him that he wouldn’t give a damn about that shirt two years after he bought it. I wish someone had told him that he could improve his future life by investing rather than by spending.

To be fair, my parents actively discouraged me from buying my Nik•Nik shirt at the time. While they didn’t walk me through the power of investing, they did assure me that buying the shirt was not the best use of my earnings. I heard them, but it was my hard earned money, and I just had to have that fly brown Nik•Nik shirt. Now that I am older, arguably wiser, and in the position to watch history repeat itself, I am determined to try to get the message about why and how to save money across to my son and his peers.

Until our kids actually start paying serious bills, they are not inclined to spend time thinking about how these bills get paid, or focusing on how to get and hold onto money. But we parents need to talk to our children early and often about the power of saving, investing and the magic of compound interest. They need to hear it not just from us, but from other trusted adults as well, since our kids are often much more likely to pay attention to this type of advice from them– possibly by several orders of magnitude. And as I know firsthand, they are not always inclined to take this advice from their parents.

So please talk to your sons and daughters about what happens if they take the two hundred dollars (or more) they are asking you to use to buy them the latest sneaker, outfit, or other fashion item and invest that money instead. As importantly, ask your brothers, sisters, friends, cousins, any and everyone close to your children to talk to them about the value of saving money over time. Ask them to tell your sons that spending $295 on a pair of skinny, low-rise jeans could take about $5,800 out of the pocket of their 65-year old selves. That’s what you have if that $295 is invested at a 7.0% compounded return. Ask them to ask your son if he would rather have a pair of pricey high fashion jeans right now, or as much as $5,800 at the time he’s ready to retire. Tell him what the 65-year-old him will think of the 21-year-old him if he spends his money on the fashion of the moment. (If you are talking to a teenager, adjust the math accordingly, and the numbers will be even higher.)

Tell your friends to tell your son that these are critical life lessons that will put and keep money in his pocket for the rest of his life. Tell him he is a terrific young man regardless of the label on his shirt or the cut of his jeans. (And while they are at it, they can tell him to pull those jeans up and keep them up.)

I certainly plan to talk to my son and his friends about the power of investing. I may not have been able to resist blowing money on the fashion must have of the moment, but I hope I can save some young brothers (and maybe my own son) from making the same mistake.

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