As much as we would like to protect our children’s mental health, thoughts and feelings by shielding them from scary news or current events, they often become aware of them due to conversations with peers at school or through social media.
What is the best thing we can do as parents and caregivers when these things happen?
We can start a conversation with our children so they’re getting correct information and have an opportunity to share how they are feeling.
How do I talk to my children about current events?
- First, take the time to check in with yourself. Process the information and cope with the emotions you may be feeling. This will help you better manage the emotions your children may be experiencing.
- Set up a time to talk. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Set time during the day to ask what they have heard, what their thoughts are and what they are feeling. Ask open-ended questions, such as “How are you feeling about that?” This will help you know how much they know and understand how they are processing at their developmental level. If your child does not want to talk about it, that‘s OK too!
- If your child is asking you about the event, it means they are ready to talk about it.
- Ask your child, “Do you have any questions about what is happening?” Answer their questions in an age-appropriate way but be honest.
- For younger kids, you can give vague answers, such as “Sometimes the people in charge make decisions we may not agree with.”
- With older kids, you can be more specific about the details, for example use the names of who is involved or how systems work.
- Try only to give small bits of information at once; maybe a sentence or two. This allows the child to guide the conversation and determine how much information they’re ready to hear. If they ask follow-up questions, they’re ready to hear more.
- You don’t need to know all the answers - that’s OK! You can let your child know if you don’t know the answer to one of their questions. You can look up answers together or sometimes you can talk about how some things are unknown or have no good explanations.
- Try to be as objective as possible (don’t add judgment). State the facts of what is happening without sensationalizing. Describing events as horrifying or describing the worse possible outcome will increase their fear.
- Normalize the emotions. Any emotion your child shares is valid. Don’t dismiss their emotions by saying things such as “Don’t be afraid.” Instead, tell them you understand and you are also feeling worried. Talk about ways to cope with the emotions or prepare for difficult situations.
As a family, how can we cope with stress during these times?
- Limit your consumption of news; potentially to 30 to 60 minutes a day. While it is important to stay informed, watching the news all day will not change the outcome of what is going on. You can create a family rule that you will only watch or read about the news at a certain time of the day.
- Young children may not be capable of processing current events. Try not to watch or discuss the news around them.
- For older children, set limits and schedules and monitor what they are exposed to on their phones.
- Model coping strategies. These events and conversations can be hard. As a family, practice distraction strategies (such as music, dancing, art or playing) and relaxation strategies (like belly breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation) after you have these conversations to help calm the mind and body down.
- Think of ways you can help. Sometimes, it may help us know we are doing something to help the situation. Come up with ways your family can help. Whether volunteering with a local organization, donating money or simply reaching out to someone you know who may be personally affected.
- Remember to care for yourself first. As the saying goes, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” You cannot take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself. Make sure to practice self-care and take time for yourself during these times of high stress.