A sponge cannot differentiate between deadly poison and sweet nectar. It sops up whatever liquid it contacts. Children are like sponges. They cannot distinguish the value of the information they are immersed in, especially when they are very young. Information on all topics – right or wrong, good or bad – is soaked up by infants, toddlers, and preschoolers without the capacity to determine its worth. Because of the inordinate influence represented by parents and other guardians, the impact of the incoming information is powerful and has a life-long effect on children. Later in life, people go to great lengths to right the wrongs of their pasts, often with limited success. The roots of old, firmly entrenched information are hard to locate and excavate, and are difficult to replace. As parents, we invest elaborate amounts of time, energy, and money to educate our children and prepare them for life.
…the impact of the incoming information is powerful and has a life-long effect on children.
We teach them to read, write, and do math. We give them the tool kit to ensure their survival and the ability to acquire the things that will help them have a safe and happy passage through life. The acquisition of life enhancing skills improves the chances of success.
On the flip-side, it is painfully clear that the lack of those tools can limit or reduce quality of life. But, reading, writing, and arithmetic, while crucial, do not represent all of the tools children need for life to be well lived. Sadly, we don’t spend an equal or even proportionate amount of time and energy teaching them how to deal with loss. In no other life area does crucial inbound information have greater consequences than in our emotional response to loss and other grief producing events.
If our stored information about dealing with grief is incorrect or inadequate, that is what we will pass on to our children.
Grief, though infrequent, is universal and inevitable. There is no escaping its clutches. Yet, as we said, loss is inevitable. Losses will occur no matter what. We cannot shield our children from the often devastating emotional impact of painful events. Compounding that omission is the fact that we can only teach what we know. And since we were once little sponges ourselves, what’s stored in the crinkled crevices of our minds is whatever information – or lack of it – that was shown or taught to us when we were young. If our stored information about dealing with grief is incorrect or inadequate, that is what we will pass on to our children.
Normally, when we approach a situation about which we have no knowledge, we diligently research the topic and find what information exists about it so we can form our own opinions. But, when it comes to grief and recovery from painful emotional losses, we tend only to search the filing cabinets of our own minds. Because the topic has been so far off-limits for so long, we usually don’t have a full and effective tool kit for dealing with grief. This is not a slam on our parents, our religions, nor our society at large. It is just an observation. None of us would ever intentionally poison our children. The key here is to acquire and pass along better guidance. We may need to wring out our old sponges, see what kind of information falls out, and then replace any unhelpful ideas with ones that are life-enhancing rather than life-limiting. For our little sponges…oops…for our children.