Author: Alison Johnson
So we have arrived at December, generally a great time of year to be a kid. Unless the inevitable wave of upcoming stories about "doomsday" -- Dec. 21, 2012 -- start to really freak you out.
That date, as many people know, marks an ending point on the ancient Mayan calendar. Some people believe that prophesizes the destruction of Earth in a planetary collision or other natural disaster (although the Mayans themselves, it's worth noting, apparently never predicted any such doomsday). Others consider it the point of a new dawn of peace and unity, but that "boring" alternative likely won't be the focus of media reports.
How can parents help children who are aware of the situation? Mainly by projecting confidence, keeping the focus on today and answering the questions that kids have, rather than bringing up new ones, experts say.
"Realize your influence," says Michele Borba, a California-based author of more than 20 books on parenting and educating children. "Stay calm and your kids will be calm. Feed into the panic and you'll have a fearful kid. Children do mirror how we cope with the ups as well as the downs of life. Be the example you want your child to catch. Reassure your child. 'Everything will be OK' or, 'Don't worry, you're safe' are mantras every child needs to hear."
Address the hype like you might other scary and confusing situations that children hear about on the news or from their friends, says Michele Tryon, a parenting expert at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk. "Do not dismiss fears or make light of their concerns," Tryon says. "Validate what they are feeling. Provide age-appropriate information about your own beliefs and reassurance that you are always there to answer their concerns and keep them safe."
Adds Sam Fabian, another parenting expert at CHKD:"It is important to respond to the questions they are asking in simple, short answers, and do not add information unless they continue to ask questions. Sometimes giving them too much information can be overwhelming and even more stressful."
A few more tips:
-- Concentrate on the present. Ask your child, "What would you like to do today?" That should help refocus their attention.
-- If an older child asks a question and you don't know the answer, say so -- and then look into it together. There are numerous books and articles about the Mayan civilization and science and weather, as well as other "doomsday" prophecies that didn't come to pass.
-- Make plans for the days and weeks after Dec. 21 and discuss them frequently with your child.
-- If you think your child might enjoy making light of the date, organize an "End of the World" party at home with their favorite foods and maybe even a countdown to midnight. Or: the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News has planned just such a gathering for the night of Dec. 21, where participants will watch laser shows, have a "last dinner" and play games. The VLM also is currently screening a planetarium show about the Mayan calendar titled, "2012: The End of the World? NOT!" (go to thevlm.org for information).
-- Talk up the alternative positive views on Dec. 21. Maybe it will be the start of good things!
And thankfully, the bustle of the holiday season should also provide a good distraction -- and keep December fun!