Although the crisis in Syria has been building for a long time, it is the poignant and tragic photographs of children and families suffering and dying while fleeing from the danger in their home country that have finally brought the issue to the forefront of our public consciousness.
Images that some people find distasteful and others argue the world needs to see have scrolled across our computer screens and stared out of our newspaper boxes, presented without warning to adults and children alike: The photographs of tiny Alan Kurdi, drowned along with his mother and older brother, washed up on the shore of a Turkish beach resort, his limp body tenderly cradled in the arms of a Turkish soldier; the combined despair and relief etched on the face of a father cradling his children as he finally reaches shore in a slowly deflating boat; the shocking footage of a TV cameraperson deliberately tripping a refugee father and child as they flee, and the confusion and anger on the father’s face as he stares up her, wondering why.
1. Use proper anatomical terminology for body parts: Penis, testes, vulva, vagina (Quick anatomy lesson: “Vulva” refers to whole area commonly referred to as a girl’s “private parts.” “Vagina” refers to the specific opening within the vulva. Of the two, “vulva” is generally the more useful and appropriate, unless you’re talking about where babies come from.) Using the proper words from the very beginning will allow you to become comfortable using them and hearing them.
Talking to Kids about Sex part 1: babies and toddlers
I’ve been seeing this post about a daughter’s questions about her mom’s makeup in my news feed recently, and it’s made me think. Christine Burke describes how her daughter’s simple question made her see herself through a 7 year-old’s eyes and examine why she spent so much time and effort contouring, highlighting, plucking, cleansing, and otherwise enhancing her looks.
In one of my university social work class there was an intense argument about nature versus nurture – Is empathy innate or learned? As I recall, I took the innate side of the argument then but I’ve since changed my tune. I believe that empathy can and should be taught starting at a young age.
The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” and Wikipedia notes, “One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience compassion.” I think of empathy as the ability to recognize how another person feels and compassion as the drive help them feel better. Both empathy and compassion have been important parts of my life and I feel that they are two of the most crucial interpersonal skills I can pass on to my children.
Ben and Carol grin at each other. Carol was my nanny when I was young. She was disabled by a brain aneurysm and is mostly non-verbal, but she can still make her feelings known!
I think it’s safe to say that everyone has parenting moments they’re not proud of. For some, those moments have tragic consequences – like the larger-than-I-ever-want-to-wrap-my-head-around number of children who are forgotten in cars every year. In almost every one of those cases, the culprit is a change in routine – it’s not the usual parent taking the child to daycare, or not the usual grandparent looking after them, or they’re being taken to a different babysitter.
*time out, because it makes me sick to my stomach even to write about this*
Even so, when we read about one of these tragedies in the news, we collectively draw a sharp breath in and then reassure ourselves that it would never, ever happen to us. Because the alternative – that at any given time, any one of us could be that parent – is simply unthinkable.
Of all the phrases I wish we parents…heck, people in general…would stop using, this one tops the list.
Back in the day, when I worked for Children’s Aid, I heard this from clients all the time: “You don’t get it because you don’t have kids. You haven’t been in my shoes. You can’t possibly understand. How can you tell me what to do?” SO annoying, amiright?”
I would nod sympathetically and patiently explain yet again that I completely understood their misgivings, but although I might not have children of my own, I had a lot of experience and training, not to mention a university degree in child development and specialized training in child welfare and assessment.
If I had a time machine, I would go back and apologize to all those clients and give the smug little university grad I was a smack upside the head because I Just. Didn’t. Get. It.