I recently had a chance to interview Dr. Charlotte Reznick who is a nationally recognized child and educational Psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA. We discussed how the crisis in Haiti is affecting our children, how to teach charity when such an event occurs, how to handle nightmares, how to harness the power of a child’s imagination to help them get past fear and anxiety, and how to help our children cope with grief.
Haiti. I first asked Dr. Reznick about Haiti and what it’s effects are on our children. With all the overwhelming images of Haiti coming into our homes every day I often wonder how we can protect our children from seeing the devastation, but also teach them how to be compassionate and charitable without scaring them. She recommended that there be no television on at all.
Dr. Reznick said, “It just makes everything so much more real. Turn it off, don’t have it on. In fact, not only does watching too much of a tragedy of this nature affect children, but parents suffer too and sometimes can’t function because it’s so disturbing.”
Charity. She suggested that if we want to teach charity to our children that we talk to them about it. “Give them an example that would make sense in their lives. ‘Remember when you fell and got a boo-boo on your knee and we wanted to help you?’ or ‘Remember when your brother fell out of the tree and we took him to the doctor and the doctor helped him get better?’ Explain that it is similar, but bigger.”
She said children will want to help naturally and you can enable them to help by holding a bake sale and other fundraisers or by helping them count out their money.
Nightmares. I asked Dr. Reznick about nightmares, especially those stemming from the earthquakes in Haiti. She advised, “Treat it like other nightmares. Comfort them. Hold them. Reassure them. Let them know they are safe.”
We talked about how children sometimes remember their nightmares in the morning and she said, “If they do, it is a good opportunity to teach them about dreams. To point out to them that they were okay in the end.” She said it is a good time to help them change the dream and the impact it had. “Ask them ‘What would you want to say to the monster?’ It’s fostering their empowerment skills. Explain to them that when they read fairy tales or fables bad things happen, but something good always happens in the end. Ask, ‘How did you feel when you were in the dream?’ and ‘How did you feel when you woke up’ and ‘How do you feel now?’ to help them get in touch with their emotions. You can also ask them ‘What kind of dream would you like to have?’ This help them feel stronger and less defeated.”
The Power of Your Child’s Imagination. Dr. Reznick has written a book, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination. I asked her about it and she said her objective in writing the book were to help as many children as possible learn skills early on to help themselves. She’s been working with the imagination for so many years that a book made sense and in it she has incorporated 9 different imagination tools to help children deal with stress and anxiety. It is targeted to children ages 5 and up, but she has seen it work on children as young as 3.
In one instance, she had a little boy come into her office and they were working on the 9 Tools. Dr. Reznick asked him what was his belly telling him. He replied, “To share.” Dr. Reznick explained that although this was something he probably heard from his mother on a regular basis, the fact that it came directly from him is what makes it mean more. “When they can pull the answers from inside themselves, they become more confident.”
Fear and Anxiety. Dr. Reznick teaches children to use their imaginations to fight fear and anxiety. One little girl had a Speak-Up Necklace. It wasn’t a real necklace, but an imaginary one that she concentrates on when she is nervous and it gives her strength. Another little girl was scared to go to bed at night so she imagined a big dragon curling around her bed and a tiger at the door to keep her safe. Dr. Reznick said, “These are all images that the children come up with themselves. Adults can help guide them by asking them to imagine their special place and to look for an animal friend to come help. The children believe in these images and are given the confidence to get through whatever situation they are struggling with. The brain interprets images as real. Eventually the children will realize that the images came from inside themselves and they were the ones strong enough to get through the situation. And they’ve not only overcome their fear but they’ve built self-confidence.”
Grief. We also talked about death and how to help children cope. Recently we had to put our dog to sleep and Kora and Logan just don’t seem to understand. I know having to put the family pet to sleep is on no level the same as dealing with a death in the immediate, or even extended family, or even on par with the tragedy in Haiti, no matter how distant, but this is the situation in our home now so I thought I would ask Dr. Reznick about it and maybe we could pass on some tips about helping children through grief.
Avery used to sit under our dining room table at every meal. Now whenever we sit down to eat, Kora and Logan ask about him. When I do explain to him that he has died and is not coming back they cry and get heart-breakingly upset for five minutes or so and then an hour later will say that he’s very sick and is at the doctor’s. I wasn’t sure whether to let this go or if I should pursue it until they fully understood. Dr. Reznick said, “3- and 4-year-olds don’t understand the permancy of death and that is the most difficult part.” She suggested telling them he’s in Doggie Heaven or wherever you believe animals and people go when they die and to explain that he is peaceful. She said, “You could tell them that he does visit us in another form and is in our hearts. Ask them, ‘What would like to say to him or what do you wish you had said before he left?’ This will help you understand their emotions and thoughts better and it may help them to talk about it.” She said it’s a great time to teach about the cycle of life and that drawing pictures may help them through the process. She suggested that I wait until they bring it up again, but if time has passed and they haven’t mentioned him that I should not to be afraid to say, “I was wondering what you were thinking about Avery being gone.”
I really learned a lot from this interview and hopefully I was able to pass on some great tips and advice. Dr. Rezncik was extremely friendly, very personable, and incredibly easy to talk to. She’s passionate about her work and that makes me all the more eager to read her book, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination.