Think about all of the images of the horrific events of the past several weeks. These are burned in our memories, but also in the memories of our children. They see adults trying to make changes in the world, changes which will affect all of us, but children are not sure what the outcome will be. We know that many children are afraid and worried about the future, so how can we help them?
This year started with children being sent home from school. Very young children were not sure that it wasn’t their fault. School is the major daily structure for most children, not having school to depend on creates stress for them. Then, just as the world was talking about opening schools again, civil unrest about the equitable treatment of people by police and others in authority turned children’s worlds upside down. You have to remember that for children, what happens in the world happens uniquely to them. It takes a lot of time for children to grow up enough to see events happening to everyone or to other people.
The problem for so many children is that they have lost their sense of belonging. They don’t belong at school, they don’t belong with their friends, and now they don’t belong in their neighborhood. Helping children regain that sense of who they are and where they fit in the world will do a lot to help them deal with all of the changes in the world.
Start by helping your children find out who they are – work with them to build a family tree. If you’re not sure what it should look like, there are many sites on the Internet that will help you frame a tree. Here’s one for kids with printable templates; here’s an 11-step how-to from Wikihow.
Have your child put his name down, along with the names of his siblings, if he has any. Then have him include his parents’ names and his grandparents’ names. For most children, that’s usually as far as they can go, and given some family dynamics, maybe not even that far. Gather up pictures of each person, and place them next to their names. The level of technology will vary from family to family – you may be able to do this totally online, or simply use pages in a notebook.
Then have your child interview each living person on his tree to find out what they know about themselves – the vital statistics such as birth date, where they were born, where they went to school, and the major events in their lives. When he interviews his grandparents, if they are available, he should ask who their parents were, and grandparents if they remember their names. Add those ancestors to the tree. People interviewed for the tree should include aunts and uncles, cousins, and other relatives.
Your child should encourage the people he interviews to tell family stories. Where have people lived? If they moved, why did they move? What’s the story about the china dish that everyone thinks is so important? What may happen is that the stories don’t all agree, which is part of the family history. Trying to figure out why the differences in those stories exist is what will make this interesting.
Any family members who have passed on should be included, along with the date of their death and where that family member is buried. If possible, take your child to the cemetery to visit relatives’ graves, and to leave some flowers or a painted rock as a remembrance. You might also take a picture of the gravestone, if one is available, to include in the family book.
If you look on You Tube, you can find TV shows focusing on famous people about finding their roots. That may help your child get some ideas about questions to ask, and how to find more information about your family. Some information may be available online for free, and once libraries are open again, your child can go there to search census data.
Why in the midst of all of this civic and emotional turmoil should your child focus on finding out who he is, and who he belongs to? It is the connection to others that holds us together and knowing the stories about who we are builds our sense of self. The more your child knows who he is and who he belongs to, the less what other people say about him will affect him. Knowing that he is a (put your family name here) who is from (put your origin here) will give him the knowledge to combat what others may say about him. He will be able to step forward and defend himself because he knows who he is and who he belongs to.