Children feel our energy. They are like energetic sponges that feed off of what we emit as adults. They know without our saying so, if something is bothering us or if we aren't quite being ourselves. They always know. We see this time and again in households that are experiencing deployments, parents with jobs that require them to travel, households with parents with dangerous jobs, or serious illnesses; the list can really go on and on. Children respond to the energy of the leadership in the household or the environment. Some children will react and act out, others will try to be helpful, but either way they are impacted.
When the book was released I saw this in my students. Some addressed me directly to ask about my being an author. Others knew what the book was about and asked me directly what happened to me. Some asked me if I felt sad about what happened to me; others approached me and said simply, "I'm sorry for what happened to you." There were also those students who asked for my autograph because well, I'm their teacher and if I was going to become famous they wanted that autograph! I smiled and obliged, although I assured them I was only famous among them.
It was the many layers of comments and questions that led me to recognize that it would be less than responsible to not address it with the kids. They know I experienced something. They are curious. They want to know so that they can have some way of making it better. This is what led me to do a the presentation labeled, "Courage. Compassion. Resiliency."
My goal has always been to educate so that others can gain perspective and develop tools of their own to help them on their own path. Children of troops that have been to war know how it feels to have waited so long for their parent to come home, only to find that they aren't quite the same as when they left. The excitement and joy of the return often turns into some difficult, confusing moments in the day to day living within the household. Police officers often know this strain too, as we have come to learn their difficulties at home have a major impact on their well-being and the well-being of their families.
I believe in meeting people where they are, so in explaining difficult topics to kids we have think about where their minds are before we approach a subject. We have to know what it is that most relates to what they are experiencing in their life. For me, they were concerned that I had a concussion. They know what concussions are and many of them have had them. They needed to understand that what happened to me is not necessarily what happens to everyone who has a concussion. This was my experience. The results of head injuries are impacted by many factors, including the surface the head hits, how hard it hits it, the rate of speed at which it strikes the skull, as well as, what direction and how a person falls or strikes their head. There are a myriad of factors that are at play. Not everyone who has a concussion experiences the kind of memory loss that I have. I think I just drew the short straw that day.
It was also important to address the things that I continue to have difficulty with and how I handle those elements from day to day. Teaching kids how I've become resilient in dealing with little difficulties matters. It helps them to see that we need to have goals in mind and we need to keep our eyes on those goals, as we navigate the little issues that crop up along the way. I've had to learn how to organize my life in a way that I understand it. It may mean that how I do things is different from a lot of people, but if it is productive, useful, and helpful to me then that's what's I need to do.
Addressing being different from other people is a huge issue for kids of many ages; I love not being the "regular" person. If you asked me that ten years ago you would have received a different answer, but being different has given me the ability to make a big difference in the lives of other people. Sometimes what seems to be our difficulty at one time becomes our victory at another.
Self-Compassion is the ability to "roll with life" and not turn to self-defeating dialogue and self-demeaning behaviors.I've met a lot of kids and soldiers over the years that are the first to turn on themselves when something doesn't go right for them. They immediately turn to these self-deprecating words and behaviors that many times are completely unwarranted. In my eyes, we should always be our greatest supporter. When we can't trust ourselves to be supportive, how can we put that trust in another person? Let's start by telling ourselves we can be our own best friend and greatest supporter. Let's play for our own team for once.
You can see there are layers of lessons here for adults and kids. I live my life as an adult, but due to the memory loss there is a kid still alive and well inside me that sees things from many perspectives. As always, I offer you perspective as encouragement for you to develop your own tools, your own path, and your own perspective. I don't believe there is any one right way through traumatic experiences. It is a journey filled with lots of comfortable and uncomfortable realizations. Embrace both and know that self-compassion is what will help you find your footing through the comfortable and uncomfortable moments.