Human nature craves the security of order—and children, who are barely beginning to learn the art of looking out for themselves, need that security most of all. The children at highest risk for becoming unstable adults are the children whose everyday worlds are filled with instability:
Constant bad news and speculations regarding public health/the economy/political tensions/international tensions/the environment
Parents out of work
Family separations and custody battles
Mental illness and/or drug addiction in the family
Adults who ricochet between lenient and strict (or between caring and abusive)
When the outside world is unstable, children can turn to their parents for security. But when the home is unstable, kids are left with little place to retreat except into physical isolation or chronic anxiety. And a home doesn’t have to be obviously dysfunctional to generate instability: for many kids, all it takes is a chronically preoccupied or worried parent.
You can’t stabilize the whole world singlehandedly, but you can do a lot with your family’s portion of that world.
Establish Household Routines and Togetherness
Routine is the first element of stability. Not that you have to do everything 100 percent the same way every day: in fact, it’s better not to try, because when something inevitably disrupts your set-in-stone routine, life will feel all the more unstable. Do, however, have times, places, and rituals/formulas for bedtimes, daily family meals, and weekly family leisure activities. And have each working adult in the household depart and return at about the same times every work day (even if that only means starting/shutting off the computer in an improvised home office). Most important: when your family is together, pay attention to each other—not to screens, and not to endless talk about things that really have little to do with you.
Establish Household Rules
Don’t be a dictator (kids are more likely to cooperate when allowed personal input, anyway), but don’t, either, be the ultra-lenient parent who lets everyone do anything they please. Most kids equate “doesn’t care what I do” with “doesn’t care about me,” and either withdraw into depression or go to dangerous extremes looking for boundaries.
Maximize Positive Input
Limit news intake to half an hour a day, preferably from carefully chosen sources that include proactive suggestions for viewers. Build your days around inspirational media (including reading) and purposeful activities. And keep “the world is falling apart” talk out of family conversations, whether in reference to social problems or personal job-security concerns. The best way to cultivate a sense of stability in your children is to consistently demonstrate a stable, confident attitude yourself.
Note to Teachers
It’s inevitable that some of your students will come from unstable home situations, and unless a problem is serious enough to justify calling the authorities, you won’t be able to do much about that. You can, however, offer a stable atmosphere in the classroom: children blessed with support from a teacher or other wise adult are more likely to grow up without lasting damage from unstable homes. Maintain routine and boundaries in your classes, and make it clear every day that you believe in each of your students and in a bright future for the world.
Shady Oak Primary School is the ideal learning environment for children who don’t take well to the traditional “sit still and listen” academic model. Rather than try to mold children to one classroom approach, we mold teaching to children’s natural abilities, helping everyone engage in projects that suit their individual skills. Active participation and creativity are the backbone of every class. Contact us to learn more.