Parents are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than a parent.Bob Keeshan
It is challenging to talk with our children about the tragedies happening in the world. The Las Vegas shootings, the Baptist church in Texas, the car bombing in Times Square and other natural disasters like hurricanes Harvey and Maria are only a few of the recent tragedies. Even if we tried to shield our children from these events, we cannot escape what they hear on social media, and from their peers. We may want to try to protect our children from exposure and believe this will keep them safe, yet we can’t avoid these conversations without risking leaving our children feeling confused, anxious or unsafe. They need to know they can talk to us when something bad happens. But when we may be scared out of our wits, how do we talk with our children without transmitting this fear to them?
Start by Examining Our Feelings
If we first examine our own feelings then we can be prepared to deal with our children’s feelings and questions. To be able to talk with our children in a way to be helpful, we must find ways to release and express our own fears in healthy ways. It is important to let our children know that we too are feeling scared, yet not to the point that we are transferring our fear and anxiety to them. Not allowing our stuff to spill into our conversations with our children is probably the biggest challenge. Although we are parents and want to do what is best for our children, we are only human. Working through our own fear and anxiety around this is most important before we have these conversations. While it is okay to let our children see us sad, they may not be able to understand extreme emotional reactions.
When our children ask questions about these events, no matter what is happening, we need to be able to respond to them as close to the time they ask the question as possible so they don’t carry it with them throughout their day. Even if they are going to be late for school, or it is bedtime, it won’t benefit them to delay or postpone answering if they are asking questions.
Don’t Hide the Truth under a Blanket of Lies
They hear what’s happening on television, or from their peers, and they are also hearing what their peer’s parents are saying which may have been approached differently from your parenting style. There is such a delicate balance between not lying to our children about what is happening and what could happen and sharing the truth without scaring them further. They need to be able to trust us in order to feel safe. In order to gain this trust we need to tell the truth. We clearly do not want to lie to our children. We want to help them to understand that it is natural and human to feel afraid and not minimize this, yet not cause them further distress.
For more tips on talking with our children about tragedies, please click on the link below for my complete article.
My wish for you today is that can feel comfortable talking with your children about any issues, big or small, and nurture a healthy, loving relationship.
-Kathleen Dwyer-Blair, LCSW, BCD
Director Nassau Guidance and Counseling