Early this morning, a colleague of my husband committed suicide in the office. He had been laid off by the firm a few days ago as part of their second round layoffs. This man was superbly intelligent, an accomplished lawyer, and a friend.
When my husband called to tell me the news, I had just put Elsa, 5 months, down for her morning nap. Arlo, 2, was engaged in his play and I was about to take my quick morning shower and get ready for the day. Today is "preschool day" - a day that I take each child to his or her own parent/child class at the Waldorf school down the street. After hanging up with my husband, it was all I could do to hold myself together enough not to alarm Arlo and to get myself into the shower. In the shower, I prayed for the family of the man and allowed myself to cry.
It is my experience that children pick up on our emotions and know when something dreadful has happened. When I am upset and therefore distracted or anxious, my toddler and infant exhibit similar emotions in their own ways - generally, contrary behavior and fussiness, respectively. It seems that children do best when their caregivers to be happy and settled.
Life doesn't allow for us to always be happy and settled. Change is constant and stuff happens. Bad things happen to good people for unexplainable reasons. We as adults are left trying to come up with rational explanations for irrational behaviors and outcomes.
The way to do this with young children? First, honor their insights and understanding that something is going on. Our wonderful Waldorf teacher told Arlo "Something is going on but you know what - it is ok. You and your mother are going to be ok." Second, use your routine and family rhythm as sanctuary: playtime, snack time, playtime, lunch, rest. Playtime, dinner, bath, bed. It is the equivalent of breathing in and breathing out as the baby or toddler breathes in with food or rest and breathes out with play. The rhythm gives structure to your day and moving with a purpose is the key to survival. Finally, as the caregiver you must remember yourself: eat, drink, rest, warmth. Take care of yourself with wholesome meals, lots of water, rest even when you don't think you can sleep, and warm clothing to support you.