I recently came across a 1951 article my late mother saved from the Charleston (S.C.) News and Courier. Titled “Agency Offers Pointers on How Parents Can Guide Their Child’s Emotional Development,” it is proof that parents and professionals of three generations ago possessed a wealth of common sense, a quality that has since become most uncommon.
The subject was war — America was embroiled in yet another one at the time — and what parents could do to help their children cope with its realities. Keep them out of earshot when war was discussed to prevent trauma to their fragile psyches? No. Adults should inform them of the dangers of war and the very real possibility — or so it was thought at the time — that an enemy could launch missiles at us. But wouldn’t that cause a child to become fearful? Yes, but fears are not necessarily bad things.
Miss Florice Langley, executive director of the Family Agency of Charleston, was quoted as saying that “as long as these fears are real fears and not overly exaggerated fears they form a natural, even healthful part of a child’s emotional growth.”
Indeed, adults were quite straightforward about such things back then. I remember, for example, crouching under my school desk during air raid drills. The hypothetical bombs in question were atom bombs, which, we were told, could come raining down at any time. I don’t remember any kids my age or thereabouts who were “traumatized” by such information. We trusted that adults knew what they were doing and would protect us as well as they could. We also were aware that “as well as they could” was no guarantee of safety. As Langley astutely pointed out, that was a “healthful” thing for us to know. Kids talked about it freely but not obsessively. We mostly planned what candy stores we would pillage if we survived.
The article then quotes a prominent psychologist as saying that anxious, frustrated, tense parents can adversely affect their children’s security. In turn, the children may develop various behavior problems. Mind you, many of the sorts of problems in question are today called “disorders” and children, not parents, are often medicated for them.
The same psychologist, a professor at Stanford University, went on to say that children should not be forbidden from playing war games. Rather, such play should be viewed as “natural outlets for emotional tensions.” It’s also a way, she said, of expressing a healthy rather than “morbid” interest in war.
Today’s parents would do well to embrace the same commonsense view of their children’s imaginations. In this regard, it is interesting to note that as adult anxiety over children playing “war” and “cops and robbers” has increased, along with prohibitions concerning such fanciful play, so has bullying. Correlation does not prove cause, but this particular juxtaposition should make adults think twice about banning index-finger pistols and that sort of harmless stuff from their homes (and schools).
The article concludes with the ever-sensible Langley saying that parent anxiety over the dangers of war is the “greatest danger to the emotional health of their children.” Finally, she advises anxious mothers to be involved in a wider range of social and avocational activities. Amen to that for all mothers, anxious or not!
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions at his website, www.parentguru.com.