Can “Maybe” Empower Our Children in Times of Fear?

thebookofmaybe5I can remember like yesterday sitting at the dinner table as a child with my parents and siblings and feeling like the world was going to end. My parents would openly discuss current events, such as the hostage crisis in Iran, the assassination attempt on President Reagan, Black Monday in the stock market and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. I thought to myself what will be in this world? How will I be safe? What can the future look like when these terrible things are happening all the time? Looking back, I probably should have asked my parents these questions, but I held them in and became a worrier.

This worry and stress about “bad things happening in the future” was something I carried around for most of my life causing me anxiety and dictating many decisions in my work and personal life. But had I asked my parents how could I stay safe so many years ago, what would they have told me? How could they have made me feel hopeful and secure, and at the same time not shield me from the problems that the world was facing at the time? Thirty years later I am sitting at the dinner table with my children faced with different problems in the world but the very same question: How do I teach my children to be aware of current affairs and at the same time be strong and hopeful for the future?

I don’t want them to feel like I did as a child that the world was doomed, but I also don’t want them putting their heads in the sand and ignoring real issues that need to be addressed.

I could tell my children that most people are safe from terrorist attacks and natural disasters in the world, but what foundation does that give them other than playing the odds that they will be okay? I could tell my children to just stay positive, but how
will they do that when they see bad things happening around them? To harness the power of positive thinking, my children would need to be optimistic no matter what happens. For many children, this is too hard to sustain when they face obstacles that obscure the road ahead. They can get stuck on the idea that, “If today doesn’t work out, it will never change in the future.”

So what can we teach our children that will sustain them through the uncertainty of the future? We can teach them about the “Philosophy of Maybe.” The idea of “Maybe” is beyond statistics and positive thinking. “Maybe” is the steadying constant hope within uncertainty. I tell my children that as bad as things may look or feel, there are always the possibilities that maybe what is happening will turn out to be good, maybe it will get better or maybe we can make peace and live with what we are experiencing and still be okay.

The reason maybe is so effective for children is that it continuously offers them more than the one possibility that is causing them stress at the dinner table or keeping them up at night. Maybe is a constant reminder to our children that there is hope in the unknown even if they don’t know all the answers in the moment.

Whether they are struggling at school, with friends, health issues or fears of global warming, war or famine, the idea of maybe can be a guiding light every day that allows them to clear their worry and guides them to all that life can offer. Over time, children come to understand that they have a choice. They can sit in the uncertainty with fear, anxiety or total despair or they can realize that there MAYBE a way out, a way forward or another way to look at what is before them. And even if a child’s fears do become reality as fears sometimes do, maybe will help them see that the next moment brings a chance for something new once again.

The best part about it — all our children need remember is “Maybe!”

Guest contributor Allison Carmen is the author of The Book of Maybe: Finding Hope and Possibility in Your Life.

Image via Allison Carmen

  • Tina

    I am so happy to have discovered your site. Positive, peaceful parenting has become a passion of mine and a daily practice. I have good and bad days, but like a muscle, the more I work it, the easier it gets. Your site is an amazing resource. Thank-you for so very much for your thoughtful posts.

    I like the direction you are going with the idea of using “maybe” as a way to get kids thinking about other possibilities. I can see talking about these things if kids bring them up. However, as parents, do we really need to “keep our kids ” informed” and, if so, of what? In what way did knowing about the assassination attempt or the hostage crisis prepare you for the world you were living in at that time? Did being informed about those things really make a difference, or would the time have been better spent talking about something else?

    I was raised in a home where politics were regularly discussed and doom and gloom scenarios were always predicted. The expense of being informed was being trained into a pattern of obsessing and worrying about things that I could do nothing about, most of which never happened. The news presents a distorted view of the world by focusing largely on the negative and yet, there is so much going on that we could share with our kids that would teach, inspire and motivate them.

    So here’s another thought-Instead of teaching them what someone else thinks they should be paying attention to, why not teach kids that they absolutely get to choose what they focus on, no matter what? Teach them to identify how something makes them feel. More than positive thinking, which can feel forced sometimes, we need to teach them that it’s OK to be flexible in their thinking and that the way we think about something truly shapes the way we feel, which makes all the difference in the quality of our day to day lives.

    Suggestions: Share inspiring stories of people who are doing amazing things in this world. Alleviate yourself and them of the need to control, fix and change things. Acceptance can be incredibly liberating. Teach them that the future is uncertain and that it’s OK. We don’t ever know what is going to happen-and that is what makes life fun, interesting and horribly scary at times. Try looking through someone else’s eyes and teach them to do the same. Ground yourselves in the present moment by practicing focusing on the sights and sounds around you. At dinner, discuss the song playing in the background, eat slowly with your eyes closed at the dinner table and really taste your food, feel yourself in your chair. The important thing is for them not to be raised in fear. Fear shuts us down and diminishes the quality of our lives.

    We don’t watch the news at all now and are very specific about what we watch on T.V. and share at the table. This is not because our heads are in the sand, but rather a radical and conscious decision to direct our precious time, energy and attention in ways that are meaningful to us.


    • Tina, I think you ideas are really wonderful and will help children develop mindfulness and a sense of who they are in this world. Thank you for reading my post. Best, Allison

  • Henry Naiztat

    Television has become the modern day Cassandra spewing out it’s message of gloom and doom. Just in the last month, the horror of the Boston Marathon and the kidnapping of those three young girls in Cleveland has monopolized the airways and has taken away from the parents any hope of shielding their children from the harsh realities that surround them. Parents have no choice but to discuss these issues with their children, and your philosophy of hope within uncertainty reminds me of President Roosevelt’s statement after the Japenese bombed Pearl Harbor, “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

  • Merrill Rudin

    Thanks for this poignant essay on how to discuss current events with our children. My parents kept “the news”(current events) hidden from me and very little discussion of what was going on in the world existed in my life. I”m not sure why. Maybe they didn’t think it was good for me to know or they knew i was sensitive. I don’t think their decision was ideal, because when i woke up “out of the dark”at 20, I began to feel a bit “shattered” and anxious about the world we live in. I did not have the tools to cope with my shock and despair. I wish i was more prepared. Perhaps if i knew about this philosophy… Just Maybe..

    I, personally, think it’s helpful to share current events within reason to our children(and taking into consideration their age). I think this philosophy of Maybe is an ideal way to support our children,if fears arise. So now when i hear cynicism arise in my son’s voice about our world, i will apply this Maybe perspective. I believe it will create an opening in our conversation. But more importantly i am convinced that it will provide more hope and help cultivate a more flexible way of viewing life.

    Thank you for bringing this important topic to our attention!

    • Merrill, So interesting – my parents did not shield me and your parents did and we both ended up scared and worried. It seems like the issue is more about how we teach our children to deal with things. I am glad you found MAYBE!

  • lorraine

    the hope of a better tomorrow is the element that can sustain the earth for the reality of
    a promising future. Maybe is the force that will help us!
    Great article Allison.

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