Q. Last year there were a number of shootings in our country – such as the killings at Newtown, Conn. Our young daughter seems afraid now when we go out in crowds. How can my husband and I comfort her and offer security?
A. Children take their cues from their parents when assessing their environment so first reflect on your own feelings, reactions and comfort level.
“If a parent has his own anxiety under control, a child does better. A parent is the main tie-in to security,” pediatric psychologist Jeffrey Hansen of Olympia told EndNotes.
Children possess acute intuition that diminishes as they grow older. You may be communicating your own worries and not even understand that you are doing so. And young children, while intuitive, cannot verbalize their fear. Instead, they internalize the fear, making things worse, Hansen said.
Life offers many reasons to suffer with anxiety; depression – once the leading mental health issue – has been surpassed by anxiety disorder as the number one mental health diagnosis. Psychologist Tamar E. Chansky in her book “Freeing Yourself from Anxiety” writes that 40 million Americans suffer with some form of anxiety disorder within a one-year period while 17 million Americans experience depression. Fortunately, both conditions are treatable. (Chansky also authored “Freeing Your Child from Anxiety.”)
If you stay within your normal routine and offer the same comforts and activities that your child knows, soon any anxiety resulting from these terrible tragedies may dissipate. If your husband seems less anxious than you are, ask him to assume some of your child care duties for awhile. He may be able to communicate a greater sense of reassuring calm.
If your child’s anxiety interferes with her sleeping, eating, school routines or other daily activities, you may want to seek some help from a professional who can assist your family. Living with anxiety can be crippling. Said Hansen: “Worry shrinks our world.”
Q. An old friend recently died. Several years ago, we had a rather hostile argument about politics. Other people were at the gathering, and I felt humiliated and betrayed. I broke off the friendship. She later moved out of town and wrote a half-apology note, but I never responded. Rather than feel bad that we didn’t patch up the relationship, her death reactivated my anger toward her. What’s wrong with me?
A. Nothing. Conventional wisdom holds that upon another person’s death, all should be forgiven and forgotten. To think ill of the dead is seen as a failing when, in reality, it’s not that uncommon.
People who have lost friends and loved ones say that the relationship with the deceased evolves over time. And feelings about the deceased sometimes change. Spouses who learn about infidelities after their spouse’s death experience rage, just as they would have if the spouse had been alive.
Some who have lost difficult family members, and say good riddance at the time, find that years later, their hearts soften. They better understand the person who died.
Right now, you’re angry with the friend. Sit with it as long as you need.
When you are ready, ponder some forgiveness. In the book, “Seventy Times Seven: The Power of Forgiveness” Johann Christoph Arnold writes about the complexity of forgiveness.
“It is so hard to overcome betrayal by close friends or colleagues,” Arnold writes. “They know our deepest thoughts, our quirks – and when they turn on us, we are left reeling.”
Your friend’s death offers a chance to go deeper into complicated emotions that may or may not lead to forgiveness, the ideal resolution, because of what it could do for you – the person still alive in this relationship.
Forgiveness, as spiritual writer Henri Nouwen points out, “sets us free without wanting anything in return.”