As much as we would like to, we can’t always protect our children from hearing about the scary things happening in our world. They may hear things on the television or internet, or they may hear other children talking about recent events. It is important to respond to your child’s interest and awareness in a way that helps them process their thoughts and feelings.
In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida, I thought it was pertinent to share some ideas on care for children when they learn about scary things.
Tips for Helping Your Child:
Some tips for talking to your child about scary things in the news* include:
- Be open to discussing the events. Sometimes we think it is better to avoid discussing scary things, because we think it will disturb the child. Talking about it in age appropriate terms, however, will help children feel more safe and secure. Acting as if nothing has happened, on the other hand, can be confusing for the child, and it can lead them towards finding inappropriate ways to address their anxieties.
- Be prepared with what you want to say. Consider your child’s age and his or her unique ways of reacting to things, and then organize your thoughts in advance. Share with a spouse, partner or friend if you can. Preparing your words will keep you from feeling caught off guard by questions and help you be sensitive to the child’s feelings.
- Find a time where there is little distraction. You want the child to be the center of your attention, so find a time when you can be completely present with the child.
- Listen as much as you talk. It is important to find out what the child knows and help them assimilate what information they have. If your child does not have the words to share his or her feelings, encourage them to draw pictures. Ask them to tell you about their pictures and give them opportunities to share about their creations.
- Talk about your own feelings. Children are very attuned to their parents’ experiences, sometimes more so than their parents are themselves. You can acknowledge your feelings to your child without burdening them with the responsibility to care for you. Feel with them and let them know it is OK to have uncomfortable feelings.
- Be honest with your child. You do not need to share all the details, but giving the child accurate information appropriate for their age helps them understand. It is OK to say, “I don’t know,” when you don’t.
- Be supportive and reassuring. Let your child know that you are there for them, and that you will do all that you can to protect them. Keep an open dialogue so that they feel comfortable sharing with you if they feel troubled as time goes on.
- Take care of YOU. The better you tend to your own needs, the more available you will be to your child. Take breaks from incessant news reporting and do active things. Spend time with your child having fun, but also make an effort to have quiet time for yourself.
- Get help if you need it. Children and adults experience emotional distress when they are exposed to traumatic events, even if they have no direct connection to the actual event. If you or your child become overwhelmed with stress, professionals can help you through it. Signs that a child may need help include: persistent sadness and unusual bouts of crying; poor sleep and/or nightmares; unusual clinginess and fearfulness; increased irritability and behavioral acting out; problems in school, etc. Find a licensed mental health provider in your area here.
*Information summarized from the American Psychological Association.
My heart is with the Orlando victims and their families. My heart is with you and your child, as well. Mia Meow and I send many hugs your way. Take care and be well.
Life is an Adventure!