…and what are the lessons they can take away?
Whilst out for lunch earlier this week my friend was telling me how worried her seven-year-old son was about Brexit. He has become very interested in the ‘process’ (or lack thereof) and requests regular updates from his mum.
Whilst simultaneously impressed by his curiosity, and embarrassed by my lack of recent discussion of the subject with my own children, I started to ponder the question of what do children think about Brexit?
A friend’s son, for example, wondered whether England would break from Wales when we leave (he may have a better idea of when that will be than the rest of us). He is half Welsh like my own offspring and imagined the ‘leaving’ being a physical break-up of the countries. Would Wales be farther away? How long will it take to get there? He was concerned that his family would have to be broken up too.
Fortunately, in this instance, they won’t be. But what about the families that will? How can we explain ‘why’ we’re leaving the EU to our children? Especially given that younger people tend to be Remainers. Divorce might be the closest comparison, but when talking about an entire nation it gets a little more complex.
Also, how do you explain to a child why the process is taking such a long time? Why can’t Britain as a country come to an agreement on how best to do it?
The majority of the decisions we make are influenced by our emotions. Our behaviours and responses are shaped by how we feel about an event, instead of the event itself. These responses, if left unchecked, become habitual thinking patterns, hence the three and a half year negotiation process.
The antidote is to challenge our thinking, consider the facts by stepping back emotionally and THEN deciding how best to progress e.g. applying a growth mindset. The alternative? An emotional, political standoff.
The irony, of course, is that we get so frustrated when our children have emotional outbursts, refuse to see our point of view, and are beyond reason and logic. We despair when they belligerently stick to their ‘toy’ guns. Ring any bells?
The part of the brain responsible for rational decision making is called the pre-frontal cortex and is much larger in humans than any other species on the planet. Another of its crucial functions is its role in social behavior and intelligence; helping us to read the emotional state of others.
However, when babies are born, the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully formed. Development takes place at various stages throughout childhood and adolescence, with maturation happening well into the twenties.
One of the last functions to establish itself is the ability to consider something from another person’s perspective.
Back to Brexit. Whether you are a Leaver or Remainer, all the events surrounding it have become unfortunate but powerful lessons not only for us grown-ups but for our children as well.
So how can we best guide them through Brexit? How can we help them develop their brains to best equip them for similar future events?
The answer lies in the way we communicate and build the relationships we have with our children.
- Talk – whenever and wherever concerns arise, talk to them to prevent their worries escalating. Encourage them to talk to and support any friends who are concerned or impacted too.
- Listen – without judgement, interruption or motivation; think of their emotional response and listen with empathy. Don’t try and come up with a solution (especially if you don’t have one) just be present with them.
- Be honest – if you’re not sure what to say, tell them. It’s good for children to learn from an early age that their parents don’t know everything, and that learning continues, no matter how old you are. Also, protecting them for uncomfortable or distressing situations will prevent them from developing emotional resilience later in life.
- Accept – As a parent the desire to want what’s best for our children means it’s sometimes difficult to let them choose their own way. And as a child they need to learn to accept the things they can’t change. Life isn’t about getting your own way all the time (the EU told me to write that bit).
- Consider your language – Choose your words carefully as they fuel emotions and can limit or encourage your child’s learning. Ask open questions to get them thinking. Get them to consider values such as kindness, empathy and respect.
Be cautious with those emotions though. Enabling children to correctly identify and articulate the emotions they are experiencing will help them to build resilience. However, don’t let them linger in their emotions for too long. Teacher and therapist, Gillian Bridge, warns that in the long term, indulging them in this way can have negative impacts on mental health. Try to distract them, make them laugh (unless they are a teenager of course) and shift their focus away from their feelings towards action.
Of course all of these tools to improve relationships work for us grown-ups too. Even politicians.
Long term, the very people who will be most impacted by Brexit are the ones who had no say in it – our children. So, let’s help them to avoid any such situation in the future by equipping them with the tools which we know work, but for some reason haven’t been used.
As Alanis put it ‘It's the good advice that you just didn't take – who would've thought, it figures!’
Right, I’d best go and have a chat with my kids…