Monday, July 11, 2016

How to help your child cope with chaos and tragedy in the news

Mom2MomEd Blog: How to help your child cope with chaos and tragedy in the news
If you have watched the news at all lately, you are well aware of the chaos and tragedy that has been occurring in our country. As mothers, community members, and human beings we at Mom2MomEd are saddened that this is the world that we are living in right now.

Considering that every day seems to bring with it a new tragedy, it’s sickening to think what the country may be like when our children grow up and are adults raising their own kids. I cannot even imagine it.

Will our children and grandchildren feel safe? Will they be able to freely walk outside of their homes without fear? Will racism and bigotry be better or worse? Will people finally have had enough and choose kindness over violence?

Times are scary for adults so it’s hard to imagine the impact that this can have on our kids.  

Even if your children aren’t watching TV, reading newspapers or hanging out on social media, they may still pick up bits and pieces of tragic events and our responses to them. Maybe your children aren’t there yet but, one day they will be aware of local, national, and world events. It’s important to think about how we talk to kids about events and things that can be scary.

It’s difficult for young children to differentiate between fact and fiction when it comes to watching things on TV or hearing stories from other sources. For example, a movie may seem just as real to a young child as a snippet on the news. Knowing that the news reports real life can be scary for kids.

If they see a natural disaster occurring across the world they may not be able to rationalize that their house won’t also succumb to a flood while they sleep. They can’t yet fathom that something on the other side of the world or the other side of the country is far, far away. To a child, it might seem as if these things are happening in their own community.

What do you do when your child asks you a question about something they saw on television or heard about at school? How do you handle your child’s fears about events in the world?

Drawing on my experience as a social worker, teacher, and now parent, I offer you the following advice...

The first (and I think most important) thing to keep in mind is that you set the tone for how your child will react

If you stay calm and rational when speaking with children  then chances are your child will stay calm and rational too. Be sure that you don’t overreact, otherwise you will only create fear and panic in your child. The goal is to provide enough information that is age appropriate to satisfy curiosity and answer questions without increasing your child’s concerns or worries that something will happen to them or their family.

Remember that in addition to keeping your discussion age appropriate, also use your judgment to guide you with regard to your child’s personality and temperament.

Both of my kids are particularly sensitive, and I know that I need to keep that in mind when speaking to them about things. They also pick up easily on other people’s discomfort, especially mine since they spend the most time with me.

At a very young age children mainly need to know that they are safe and that you are available to protect them.

As your child gets older and you are confident that they can additional handle bits of information, it is important to know what they are already hearing and from where. Ask questions to see what they know and how they feel about it. And, talk about whether or not the sources of their information are reliable.

Let your child describe their feelings to you without judging them. 

Be open and accepting of feelings your child may have that you think may be unfounded—remember that this is about what your child is actually feeling, not what you think they should be feeling. You may assume that they feel one way when, in reality, they are feeling or experiencing something completely different. Let them lead the discussion while you thoughtfully listen.

Sit with your child, maybe hold them in your lap or lay a hand on their arm or knee. Occasionally say, “Oh” or “Uh-huh” or “I see” so they know you are actively listening.

Older children and teens may be curious and want more information. They may research and gather their own details to formulate their own opinions. Keep in mind that older children and teens may not show their emotions as openly as younger children but can be just as worried and scared. Ask your kids what they are hearing or seeing and ask them what sources they have gathered information from. Evaluate those sources with your teens and tweens for credibility. Older kids and teens are much more savvy than young children, but they still may find unreliable sources of information, even outright incorrect details. Do research with them and help them to make sense of what is going on and use this as a teaching tool to talk about finding reliable information and how to weed out fiction from fact.

Ask your teens and tweens if they know anyone affected by the news or events they are hearing about or following. Don’t assume that they are old enough to handle this information on their own. It can be just as scary (and even more so) for teens as they are much more aware of the world than their younger counterparts. They also are much more likely to know people either in real life or in the virtual world of social media and gaming that are directly touched by some of the terrible things taking place in the world.

Often teens and tweens don’t want to talk right away or directly about, well, about almost anything unless it is their idea. To get around this, consider talking while doing some other activity. Go for a walk together and bring up world events while walking. Talk while buying groceries. Talk with tossing around a basketball. If your child still doesn’t want to talk, try sending them an email or a text message to open the door. The key with teens and tweens who don’t want to talk is to make sure they know that they CAN come to you and that you are there for them.

Above all, regardless of your child’s age, be present and available. 

If your child has questions or is scared there is nothing more important that being available. Check in often to see how they are doing and to reassure them that you are there.

Tragic events can also open doors for you to talk about compassion and helping others. Maybe there is a neighbor who could use a little cheering up, or a friend who needs a hand. 

Finding ways to help someone close to home can also give a child (and you) a sense of control in a seemingly out of control world.

Keep the door of communication open and remember the goal isn’t to give the maximum amount of information but rather give just enough to make your child feel safe and secure. They will look to you for cues on how they should react. Staying calm and rational is key.

If you feel that your child has fear or anxiety about their safety or security, and it goes beyond what you feel is normal, make sure to contact your medical professional to provide support and guidance. They will be able to guide you on the next steps for your child, possibly including counseling if your child’s fears or anxiety have them on high alert all of the time.

Have you had difficult discussions with your child? What did you say? How did they react? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments.
In thinking about this post, we also looked to everybody’s favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers. Although the events he discusses in the below video aren’t quite the same as what is happening in many communities in the United States and around the world today, it still bears watching:

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