10 Tips For Helping Kids Adapt In Place

Sharon August 28th, 2008

I know all of us with kids or grandkids are deeply worried about their future.  We want to help them have a good one – and it is tough to realize that sometimes the way we can give them the best possible future isn’t by insulating them (although doing some of that is good too) but by helping them adapt to the world they’ll be living in ahead of time.  This is a big topic, and one that I can’t do more than brush against today, but here are the things I think might be the most important stuff we can do for our kids (and here I refer to the young ones, not grownup ones, who have different issues).

1. BE THE GROWNUP.  This sucks.  I hate it a lot of the time.  Every parent knows the feeling of wanting not to be the responsible one, not to have to deal, and suck up their pain and frustration and fear.  Tough.  This is the Mom and Dad (and Grandpa and Grandma) job – to bear the brunt of things, to do the hard stuff so the kids don’t have to suffer, to not make your kids parent you or deal with your emotional inadequacies any more than strictly necessary.  This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, noble or never feel anything, or never cry in front of them – it just means you don’t indulge yourself at their  expense. It just means that except when you just can’t (and those moments can’t be too often) you can’t ask your kids to take care of you – it isn’t their job.  And if you are scared, they are too. If you are sad they either are sad or scared because you are sad.  Your ability to control yourself and be a grownup even when you don’t want to, to say “I’m sad, and sometimes I cry, but now we’re going to go forward” makes a big difference.  

This is a hot button subject for me, because I think honestly a lot of our present problems can be summed up as “no one was willing to be the grownup” – that is, no one thought much about the future, and now the future is fairly fucked up.  It is time for all of us who are grownups, whether we have kids or not, to act like we care about the future, and to be the grownup, not just when it is convenient but all the time.  We will probably not enjoy this, but who cares?  That is, we have to live our lives asking “does this hurt the ability of future people to live and have a decent life?”  And if the answer is yes, then no matter how many good excuses we have, we shouldn’t be doing it. 

I have no doubt that someday the four of my kids will write an expose of “advice my Mom gave online and didn’t always live up to.”  I suspect it will be a long and vibrant essay ;-) .  I don’t always find it easy to be the grownup, which is why I suspect it isn’t easy for most other people (although I shouldn’t assume most of y’all aren’t better folks than me).  But this is, I think, the first and most important job of preparing children for the future – letting them model real adulthood.  And the models they’ve got are us – so we’ve got to do better.  I’m hoping my kids won’t be able to say I screwed this one up too bad when the time comes – I’m trying.

2. Involve your kids – in a kid appropriate way.  There is no need for children to know all the bad news, or your worst fears about the future.  Sometimes, with teenagers, this may be appropriate, but I don’t think younger kids need to be scared by things they can’t fully understand.  But the choice is not “do I wait until they are 15 and spring Peak Oil and climate change on them” or “do I start them reading Savinar at three ;-) ”  Most of my readers are probably already doing this, but some may wonder how to get started. 

Obviously, you can bring them into the garden, you can bring them into the kitchen, give them chores helping you with your home economy, get them to help in your home business, teach them about ecology and environmental issues.  I hope all of us are doing these things, at age appropriate levels.  And there’s more -  one of the things we tend to think in our society is that children should not work – I think this is absolutely wrong. I believe children, like adults, need good work. It goes without saying that young children should work appropriately and have lots of time for learning and play, but children not only can work, they should.  What they should not do is have to do the kind of work that drives adults to despair – that is, they need good work, and to understand why their work matters.  They should get pride in being able to help their household, and know that their accomplishments matter, not in a fake self-esteem sense, but in a serious way.  They deserve, to the extent they are able, to earn respect and serious attention for their work, and if they work with you, once they are old enough, they should have a say in how things are done, and a share in the rewards.

3. Respect what matters to them.  I know it feels like you are trying to save their lives, and they are worried about how crazy it looks that you are storing all this food, or doing some other weird thing.  But that matters as much to them as your concerns matter to you.  Try and be respectful.  Sometimes the needs of kids simply have to be subsumed to family priorities, or their needs/wants aren’t good for them.  But sometimes they need to know that they count, and that you care about how they feel.  So maybe it makes sense to do your shopping only at the store where your neighbor’s son doesn’t bag groceries, or to stockpile lip gloss and zit cream for the apocalypse.  Just because you don’t consider it essential doesn’t mean they don’t – and let’s be honest, you have a few things in there that might not totally be essential too ;-) .

 4. Without taking everything away, make their new normal ahead of time.  This is tough – on the one hand, we want our kids to be regular kids, we don’t want our preoccupations to affect them, and since we know all this abundant cheap energy probably isn’t forever, we may want to do a lot of special things now.  That’s not bad or unreasonable.  But your kids will probably do best if they keep their lives generally about the same as the lives they lived before whatever happens occurs.

That means that most of the time, you should probably model the life you expect to live, with a balance of some things you want them to have that they won’t later.  Too much of the latter, and the new life is a huge deprivation.  Too much of the former, and the child realizes your family is insane ;-) a bit too early, plus, you end up with losses you don’t have to have. 

Everyone’s family is going to be different – but it helps if your routines and sense of what is normal is fairly adaptable – that is, it is tough to replace the “Christmas at Disneyland” routine in a post-peak world – you just have to lose that one.  But “We all stay up late and decorate the tree at midnight on Christmas eve, and then open presents” can work whether you decorate with electric lights and tinsel or just your old ornaments, and whether the presents are purchased or handmade.  The more susceptible to adaptation, the better.

5. Kids need the people in their lives.  I grew up in a family my parents did a remarkable job of essentially creating joint custody long before it was widespread, but where in relationship to other extended family, the issues adults had with other adults in the family frequently intruded into the relationships kids had with those other adults.  That latter is not something I approve of, except in the case of genuine danger to a child.  That is, I think kids who are related to people by biology or long connection, have a right to those connections being maintained and kept up.  The kids have a relationship that can and should be seperate from the relationships the parents have with each other or other adults in their lives.  They shouldn’t have to lose people because the grownups can’t get along.  This goes for divorce (and yes, I know some exes are assholes, and sometimes the courts choose badly and sometimes there is no good choice) as well as larger extended families.  That is, what your kids may have going into this is their parents and the other people who love them.  Don’t take those people away lightly.

I realize that sometimes this is unavoidable – parents have to move, people really can’t find a good compromise.  But in a lower energy world, being far away from people you love is going to be a much bigger thing – divorced parents living across the country from one another who could afford to fly back and forth, or moving for that new job and uprooting the kids from friends and Grandma mean taking away from your kids one of the primary sources of comfort, security, even long term health and safety that they will have.  Don’t do it lightly. If you are divorced or divorcing, please try and stay near one another, and as difficult as it is, play nice.  And if you can, get along with your relatives – because your annoying, intolerable FIL may be their beloved Grandfather, and there are enough losses coming – try not to make more for them. 

6. Be prepared to educate your children.  I was struck by Dmitry Orlov’s observation that in a crisis, education isn’t less important, it is more.  Because you may end up digging ditches, but a person who also knows poetry or music and has a head full of ideas can live in their minds while their bodies work.  One of the most common misconceptions, I think is that the future means that we should concentrate only on professional, manual or technical education, and that every other kind of education is fundamentally useless.

 I think this isn’t true at all – it is true that certain kinds technical degrees may still result in a high paying job when everyone else is poor, and it is true that people will need a career.  But they also need critical thinking skills, a relationship to the world of art, literature and music, ethical and moral principles, good reasoning skills, a deep knowledge of history, religious training for them that want it,  the ability to understand what the world looks like from other perspectives, the ability to understand other languages.  Now it is true that college is probably too expensive a way for most kids to do this – I honestly don’t think that even if you can get student loans, I’d recommend putting a kid into college to get a degree and come out with tens of thousands in loans – period.  But you don’t have to go to college to learn these things – there will be plenty of unemployed people who know about them, and books are cheap now – you can stock up.

Education as it is practiced in the US is very energy intensive, and likely to get less so.  Many of our kids may need to be educated at home, or in neighborhood cooperatives, may need to find substitutes for college or high school.  And while it is important that they learn the manual and technical skills many of us lacked, they will also grow up gardening and cooking and fixing things – so their needs may be for art and astronomy, poetry and history and the life of the mind that they can practice while they weed and build and hammer.

7. Let them be in charge sometimes.  Turn some of the responsibility over to your kids – when they are young, they can help decide what goes in the emergency kits, or whether to make ketchup or salsa with the tomatoes.  When they get older, give them more responsibility as they prove they can handle it.  Let teenagers be in charge of the bulk order, or even the family budget if they have the relevant abilities.  And when you let them be in charge, let them be.  Let them make mistakes, but not life threatening ones.  Treat them with respect, and when they make a mistake, let them fix it. 

Also, if you want them to stay on a piece of land or in a particular place near you, help them see a future there.  That is, they aren’t going to want to live their lives as your assistant farmer forever – make it clear that you will cede control. Help them start small businesses of their own, and grow them.  Help them go forward, but also let them have their own territory, their own responsibilities and do things in their own realm as they see fit.  If they have dreams you think aren’t feasible, well, help them get there anyway – but also insist that they have practical back-up plans.

8. Enter the pass-down economy now.  In most poor societies, what children inherit is what their family collectively owns, and the improvements and investments that their parents and previous generations have put into something.   They can’t afford to buy land – what land they have access to comes from the stewardship of previous generations.

It is disheartening in some ways to realize that what may most define our children’s future is what we can pass down to them – particularly when what we have is a bunch of debts and a lot of plastic.  So it makes sense to shift into the pass-down economy sooner, rather than later.  That means buying things that are of good quality, trying to keep your life unencumbered, and caring for what we do have of value, so it can serve future generations.

It also means our relationship to our children should be about passing on our values – not what we say we value, but what we really and honestly do care most about – and the way to do this is to live our lives according to what we believe.

9. Have fun with your kids.  I’m not suggesting you should be their friend all the time – discipline is important, and being at the center of your parents’ world is a little too scary for kids.  But joy and fun and play are important for kids even more than grownups (and they are awfully important for grownups as well).  So make sure you allow time for fun – if not the kind of fun you were accustomed to, the kind that doesn’t cost money. 

Moreover, *be fun* with your kids – don’t let your fear or anxiety take away the pleasures of laughing with them, or dreaming about the future, or just being with them.  It is reasonable to be worried – but not to let it overwhelm your life now, and it isn’t fair to your kids.

Keep festivals and rituals in place, take time off even when times are hard, make jokes even when things don’t seem funny.  Do it even when they think the rituals are stupid and your jokes suck. 

10. Help them up when they fall down.  Let them fall, sometimes, either because they need to or you can’t stop them, but be there on the other end.   Even in good times they are going to fall. In hard times, they may fall harder and longer.  There may not be as many safety nets.  You can’t protect them from everything, and sometimes you shouldn’t.  But with exception of the occasional addict, what you should do is be there when they fall down, every time from those first steps to the first arrest (which ideally you’ll get to skip entirely, or it’ll be the good kind of arrested ;-) ).  Yes, it teaches them that you’ll be there to save them.  And for some small percentage of children, that’s a bad message, that says they don’t have to be responsible.

But for most kids, I think that helping them up, and maybe resisting the temptation to tell them what an ass they’ve been, lets the stupid thing be the lesson itself.  That is, all the lessons don’t have to come from you.  All the judgement doesn’t have to come from you.  At some point, we can take our hands off and let them know that they have to do their own judging.  That, I think is that growing up thing we’re supposed to want them to do.  And then maybe we’ll have some more people being the grownups to work on the future with.


17 Responses to “10 Tips For Helping Kids Adapt In Place”

  1. Rosa says:

    Hey, lots of good people get arrested sometimes. If my kid gets arrested someday for de-arresting someone else, or squatting, or stealing from a dumpster, or blocking a road for a good reason, we’ll have a party. Once we get him out. One of the life changes of motherhood is that I am avoiding arrestable activities these days.

    I worry about #5 because we are so far from so many people we love, and there’s nothing I can do about that. Last night Mica was playing with some cars his Nebraska grandpa (the one I am gritting my teeth and getting along with because) sent him, and he was all “this one is mommy’s, and this one is daddy’s, and this one is grandpa’s, and this one is grandpa Ron’s, and this one is Megan’s”…collectively, to see all those people, we’d have to make about an 800 mile trip. Even the local person in that list is 12 miles from us, which is not an everyday jaunt by bike or bus.

  2. Mia says:

    I have a teenager– feel like it would be almost harder for him to adjust than a younger child. He and his friends live in a world completely ruled by mass media and electronics– i pods, video games, movies, electric guitar, long phone conversations, internet. I really tried to get him into the things I’m into (gardening, foraging, etc) but he has completely rejected it all. I liked your advice, Sharon. Just have a lot of regrets that I wasn’t more hard core with my son when he was younger– or maybe if I’d been more hardcore he still would have rejected everything I believe in?

  3. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » 10 Tips For Helping Kids Adapt In Place I know all of us with kids or grandkids are deeply worried about their future. We want to help them have a good one – and it is tough to realize that sometimes the way we can give them the best possible future isn’t by insulating them (although doing some of that is good too) but by helping them adapt to the world they’ll be living in ahead of time. This is a big topic, and one that I can’t do more than brush against today, but here are the things I think might be the most important stuff we can do for our kids (and here I refer to the young ones, not grownup ones, who have different issues). [...]

  4. annette says:

    Mia – the good thing about teenagers is that in a few years, they will no longer be teenagers! My younger son was just like yours a few years ago ( with the additional added attraction of the “not good” kind of arrests . . ). Now he is 22, he is a real, responsible grownup (for the most part) and he’s even begun to admit that he agrees with at least some of my values. He talks about buying land with his friends, growing food, forming a cooperative. (This doesn’t mean he’s given up video games – but at least he’s aware that the amount of time he devotes to it is not a particularly good thing). And I’ve seen this over and over with the children of my friends – no matter how they’re raised, most adolescents go through a difficult period (some more, some less), and virtually all of them outgrow it and become decent adults. A few don’t, its true, but the vast majority will eventually be fine. I know that doesn’t make it less miserable to live through, but hold on to the thought that your teenager will be okay, and your values HAVE made an impact (invisible now, I know!) that will begin to become apparent once your son is into his 20′s.

  5. Sharon says:

    Rosa, I’m talking more about the conscious attempt of adults to bring their stuff into relationships, rather than physical distances that existed before. That said, however, I do think “far away from functioning family” is tough – it is for me.

    Mia, no one, never at 16 would have bet I’d bet the self-sufficiency person I am now, trust me. My parents modelled a lot of this stuff, and I was uninterested. But lo and behold, there was an adult inside the horrible adolescent, and hope ;-) . I bet your child is getting more from you than you think.


  6. Greenpa says:

    Really good stuff, Sharon.

    One educational tool we now have, that didn’t exist when many of us were children, is DVDs. They’re pretty durable with a little care, and withstand mildew etc. better than books.

    I’m watching the development of Smidgen (3) with fascination- she was exposed to movies and Jackie Chan and explosions in utero. Her oldest brother, Beelar (30) was 10 before we had a VCR in the house.

    Smidgen already knows about the ocean, from watching Blue Planet; the poles, mountains and deserts- and 3 different Tinkerbells.

    Like all powerful tools, DVDs have their hazards. But a good collection made with education in mind would be very powerful indeed- and possibly something one could use as barter material in the future.

  7. Christina says:

    Only problem with DVDs is they’ll need power to access them.

    We finished up our summer with a nine-day camping trip – car camping, to be sure – with our 12, 9 and 3yo. We were able to use the trip as a springboard for discussions of post-peak-oil: things like limited water and fuel resources (there was no water on site), limited food choices (what we brought with us, minimal refrigeration, etc.), etc. A lesson in making do with what was available, having work and leisure focused in our immediate locality, and so on. We’ve been digging into the issue with our older kids pretty much since we had the epiphany ourselves. The toddler, he’ll just be living that life; the older two will have adaptations to make.

  8. MEA says:

    One help for number 1, is to have another grown up — if you are an unparterned parent, this can take a bit of doing, but it’s amazing how much easier it is to be the grown up if you don’t have to do it 24/7. I never realized what a luxery it was to be able to go pee without someone giving the play by play.

    I know a couple of women who tell me they have never left their children alone with anyone, including the children’s fathers. I can’t imagine how they cling to a shread of sanity.

  9. Tara says:

    Some of these are good for those of us without kids as well, as they can also apply to how we relate to our spouses, partners and other adults we’re close to. I’m not suggesting we treat our spouses like children, of course, but it’s good to be reminded sometimes that we must show them respect, let them be involved, maintain some levity, etc. So, generally sound advice all around!

  10. MEA says:

    I just realized that I’ve made a horrible joke in my post above. SOrry.

    I wasn’t trying to talk just about going to the bathroom, but that getting a break from being with children all the time helps you in behaving like a grown up when you are with them. I find that if I am constantly surrounded by very young people, I start to think the whole world is like that, and to loose focus on being the adult in the situtation.

  11. Pine Ridge says:

    Sharon, thanks for the great posts lately! I just wish I had time to respond to more of them.

    My kids (11,10,8 & 6 yos) have kinda grown up with the idea of peak oil. They know we grow food, store it, raise animals, stay home, try and save money, turn off lights (ok, they must not know about that one, lol) all to adapt to changes peak oil might bring-and ’cause mom is kinda crazy that way.

    I don’t mind if they aren’t interested in everything I do, but I do make them watch and participate. They know that I am still learning while I try to teach them. I want this kind of lifestyle to come easier to them than it did me.

    And I try an focus on PO not being bad, just different. One child wants to live in a city when they grow up so they can walk everywhere, another wants to have horses. Thinking up alternatives with children is easier. They look at things as an adventure not what they will be missing.

  12. Gina says:


    Excellent list. Number 1 hits very close to home for me as I grew up as the oldest child in a home with a mother that was (unfortunately, still is) depressed and never sought treatment.

    So I will add another suggestion:

    If you suffer from any mental or physical illness, seek treatment now. Develop strategies to continue treatment in a world without assured access to doctors, therapists, and medication. You have to take good care of yourself in order to take good care of your kids.

  13. Squrrl says:

    Our first child is one, now, so the things we do to prepare her are both simpler and more fundamental.

    One is that we don’t coddle her much. She gets rained on. She gets hot or cold, within reason, as the weather dictates. If the pavement is hot, she’s free to find that out by herself and come up with her own solution. If the weed is prickly, I guess she’d be smart not to grab it again. We want her to be accustomed to the idea that the world is not an even 75 degrees, dry, and aseptic (and boy, is ours not. ;-) .

    Another is that at age one, she already understands very well, thank you, that food comes from plants. She has eaten fresh, seasonal food since first she decided she was interested in anything besides mama’s milk. She has snagged blueberries, raspberries, and cherries (yeah, that one wasn’t so good) all straight off the bush. Yesterday morning, she spontaneously helped me pick mouse melons (basically tiny cucumbers) and put them in the bag herself…I nearly cried with pride. One year nearly to the day and she helps with the harvest.

    Yet another is that a lot of her things are yard sale/thrift store/hand-me-down finds. I want her to grow up with the idea that a thing doesn’t have to be new in the box to be fun and special. And even if something’s already a bit scuffed, she’s expected to treat it gently–if we have a thing in our home, it’s because we value it, no matter how much it cost, and we treat it accordingly. When she does have something new, it’s carefully chosen and well made and expected to stay around long term.

    There are other things we do, as well as agreeing wholeheartedly with everything Sharon said, but I’ve rambled enough. On the whole, though, I feel fortunate to be starting with a relatively blank slate, and not an older child already steeped in a failing society.

  14. Abbie says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It makes me want to go hug my parents and my in-laws!

    My parents taught us practical skills like how to grow/raise food and also taught us to value education, reading, math, and problem solving (which my dad calls “Yankee ingenuity.”)

    My parents also take care of us, want us to live close and help to make that a reality for us. We bought land from my grandmother and my dad and husband built our house. We could never have afforded to build a house otherwise.

    My in-laws have set up a stair building business for my husband to eventually take over and a shell fishing buisiness for his brother.

    Our parents’ investment of time and money now means our family will succeed in the future.

    I hope that I can be that good of a parent!

  15. Mia says:

    thanks Sharon and Annette for your comforting words about my teenager. some days I feel like he’ll be fine– other days– like a few weeks ago when he threw a full- blown teen tantrum when I mentioned I wanted to get a cow (” ew they are disgusting” etc) I don’t know how either one of us are going to get through these years.

    Sharon, have you, or could you address special needs kids (or adults) and your thoughts on their place in a post peak world? My other (baby) son has down syndrome, so it is on my mind. One thing I keep thinking is I should have another child to help take care of him (inspired partly by something Dmitry Orlov wrote about how we need to have big families, lots of kids, to take care of us in our old age, since we won’t be able to count on social security or the govt helping us in any way). Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

  16. MEA says:


    I have 2 children with special needs, so it’s something I think about a lot. I’ve tried to build a family around them — to put a lot of effort into creating bonds of mutal help with other people that I hope will carry over in later life for my children.

    I hate to make generalizations, but of course there are some (very few) I think people who can never make a contribution to the work of family life. I have a friend whose blind, hepapalgenic daughter clears the table and loads and unloads the dishwasher, not becuase no one else in the house can do it, but because it was a job she could do, and there is no reason why she shouldn’t have household chores like everyone else. An other child a know, with sever CP, babysits his baby brother by entertaining him and pressing his buzzer to let his parents know if the baby needs changing, etc.

    The same way, a handicapped person can play a large role in a family economy (depending on circumstances). I think in someways its easier to live life on the farm, in charge of the henhouse or the veg garden or whatever, than to be bussed to Macdonalds to fold boxes for Happy Meals which seesm to be the career asperations held by the school district for many transitioning special service students around here.

    Another friend, fed up that her son seems to spend most of his day getting yelled at by other teenagers in the local burger barn who seemed to be motivated by fear, found him a job at the local super market. He can walk there himself, and spends his shift arranging the fresh produce, culling the wilted stuff, and doing a much more (IMO)useful job. (How long his job will last in the current economy, who knows.)

    It’s early days yet for me to be thinking about jobs for my girls — perhaps — but PO may (slow crash, best possible circumstances, full moon on Tuesday, and all that) actually bring them opportunies that will keep them close to the community and let them make a real contribution.


  17. Sharon says:

    Mia, I agree with everything MEA says, and I’ve written a little bit about Eli and kids like him here: http://sharonastyk.com/2008/02/29/some-kind-of-help-is-the-kind-of-help-we-all-can-do-without-getting-things-done-with-children-who-dont-or-cant-help/, but I’m going to try and do a post (after this present series of at-home-adaptation is done) on the future of disabled kids in a lower energy world.


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