Our country has been on high alert from the recent terror attacks and mass shootings. With people receiving news instantly from their smart phones and then immediately discussing their shock and anger with others around them, they may not be aware that children are overhearing these conversations. Parents who are mindful about the eavesdroppers and limit media exposure, may think that they are protecting their kids from this information, only to find out that they are hearing about it from friends at school.
So how do we have this talk with kids?
- Have a game plan: Both parents need to be on the same page when it comes to having any type of difficult conversation with kids. Talk about your own fears, what information you want to share and how you will simplify the language to your child’s understanding. Talk about possible questions that may come up and the supportive answers you can give.
- Follow Your Child’s Lead: When you have tough talks with your kids, they tend to only be able to take in as much as they can. In the middle of the conversation they may blurt out, “I wanna go play!” or “Can I eat Goldfish?” This is their way of saying, Ok, I have heard enough, I’ll process it and come back when I am ready. They may bring it back up again in a car ride or while they are getting ready for bed.
- Validate their Emotions: Sometimes parents want to rescue kids from vulnerable feelings of fear, anger and sadness. They tend to dismiss them by saying, “don’t feel that way” which is very confusing to a child. Kids need to be able to feel these emotions and have a safe way to express them. When it happens be sure to name the feeling, validate and normalize them. Let them know that you are there to help them work through it.
- Coping Strategies: Begin to brainstorm on ways to cope with upsetting feelings, such as talking to someone, crying, taking deep breaths or having the child write/draw their fears and feeding it to a Worry Eater. When kids have the opportunity to express their emotions, they can begin to process them. It will give them a sense of balance and control.
- Feeling Safe: Sometimes people do terrible things to hurt one another. Remind your child that there is always more good people in the world that want to help, protect and keep each other safe. Discuss the layers in our country’s security system (local police, county, state, federal). Talk about how people have specific jobs and are trained to protect us. You can also discuss the child’s safety net and who they can trust; their parents, school teachers and neighbors. Let them know that they can always come to you with questions and concerns.
Resources to Help Kids Cope with Trauma Associated to Terrorism