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It's okay to have big feelings about smoky skies
It is Ok to have Big Feelings about smoky skies:
Yesterday, around 1:15pm, the sky in New York City turned orange from wildfire smoke filling the atmosphere.
As the light streaming in from the windows dimmed, brains of children sitting in classrooms detected danger. Perceptions became altered, and attention paid to any chatter about the outside became heightened. Children began to cry, scream, and move their bodies in attempt to answer the call of their amygdala: run. fight. freeze. All around them, grownups - fighting their own brains' calls to action - struggled with what to do. Voices elevated, and the following refrain was uttered in varying volumes:
"This is fine. We are fine. Everything is going to be fine. Stop being scared. You have nothing to be scared of."
Many (but not all) children looking for a mirror for their feelings, instead encountered many walls. Rather than validation, they heard that their feelings were not "fine." Some grownups felt okay telling the children, "I'm scared too - let's figure this out together." Many did not, fearing that admitting their own fear would somehow make things worse.
Not only were skies smoky, but now so were many children's hearts.
Smoky skies are not the norm where we live. It is okay for us to be afraid, it is okay for us to worry. It is also - especially - okay to show children that their feelings are normal. It is okay to validate a child's fear, sadness, anger, worry. It is okay to say "I am scared too."
Telling children "everything is fine" when the indisputable facts are that it is not, is akin to telling them "your feelings about this situation are not normal. You can't trust them." Speaking in a loud voice to a child to tell them "I am not scared, you shouldn't be either!" is modeling for them that owning your true feelings is dangerous, and should not be done.
In times of crisis, hold children's feelings as though you were holding their hearts in your hands.
"I can see you are feeling scared right now. I know this is a hard situation - to be honest with you, I'm not even sure what we are supposed to do. I am noticing that I'm a little scared too. I do know that the people in charge around us are doing everything they can to keep us safe. I trust that we will be okay, and that we will be safe -even if I am worried.
Do you want to talk about how you feel?
Do you want me to talk through the precautions our school/city/state is taking?
Would you like to see if we can find a mask for you to wear?
Can I help you calm your body down, so that the feeling doesn't feel so big?
Let's take some rhythmic (1-2) heartbeat breaths together. Let's close our eyes and visualize the smoke clearing with every breath out we take.
What else can we do to help you move through the big feelings?"
It is okay for them to be scared. It is okay for you to be scared. It is okay to admit that we don't know what is happening. It is okay to tell a whole class of kids "your feelings are normal, and I am okay giving you space to talk about them."
Many children cried at bedtime last night - even those that remained calm during the day. Perhaps, especially those children.
The smoke may clear today, but the feelings may remain. Notice what they feel. Show them it is okay to feel it. To be a hero for your children, be where they are.
We don't have to be "fine" when things are not fine.
It is okay to feel what you feel, it is okay to validate big/scary/challenging feelings. You can move through it together.