News headlines on television, pop up ads on YouTube, magazines in the check out line at the grocery store, and debates on social media. There are so many ways that we are inundated with information through the day and recently the news seems to be heavier and heavier. With the political discourse, devastation from hurricanes and wildfires, women and men sharing stories of sexual assault, blatant racism, threat of nuclear attack, gun violence, the news of current events can feel both overwhelming and terrifying. A few months ago I posted a blog outlining some ways to give yourself some space and self care as an adult “in the know”, but how do we help our children facing these same news stories and current events?
First, have conversations with your child and be sure to really listen and hear their concerns. Ask questions and give your child space to process their own thoughts and feelings. Your child may express fears or confusion about what is going on and it is important that they have a safe place to talk about concerns, share their fears, speak up about feeling unsafe and share what they hear other people saying. This is an opportunity to not rush just to console, but rather a time to wait, feel out what your child needs and practice reflective listening skills such as “I hear you saying you are confused” or sharing your own feelings such as “I feel worried too.” It is okay to be worried or fearful also as this can help teach your children that it is okay to be worried but also okay to use calming and coping skills to manage those reactions. If you have found a particular way to manage these reactions, share that with your child. It can become a family coping skill and build relationship while also calming concerns. It is also okay for you and your child to disagree, but to model how to share opposing views in a respectful way.
Another point to remember when working with your child is to help him or her understand that it is okay to not be okay. Sit with them in their hard feelings. Show them how to share this compassion and empathy with others. Although well intentioned, the statement “you are alright” or “it will be okay” is meant as encouragement but it can shut down a child’s true emotional reaction or unintentionally teach them that you have to be okay all of the time. You can swap these statements for encouragements such as “I’m here with you” or “it seems you are having a hard time.” You can also ask “how can I help”, “how can we help” or “what do you need?” Giving your child the authority to own his or her feelings as well as self-advocate for help are lifelong skills that you will be teaching and modeling for your child.
Take time to educate your child about how to identify safe people, how to ask for help and what to do in an unsafe situation. Don’t be discrete or beat around the bush. This isn’t a time to think that avoiding the situation or discussion will mean that it goes away. It is our job to empower our children to have a voice, to trust their gut instincts if they are feeling unsafe or unsure and to learn how to determine who to trust, what is safe and how to ask for help.
Limit the non-stop flow of news and social media. As I talked about in my previous post, it is not helpful to have all hours access to news even though it is available. It can become overwhelming and leave us feeling anxious and unbalanced. While it is good to be up to date and know what is going on in the world, having fewer check-ins with the news can help reduce the intensity of worry, fear or overwhelm. It is also important that you are aware of how your child is gaining information and being sure that it is from trusted sources. One of the reasons that having family conversations about current events is important is so that your child knows that he or she can come to you with questions and you all can have a dialogue about what is going on rather than your child feeling unsure and potentially getting information from a non-reputable source.
Take breaks and model self care. Find family activities that are uplifting and fun. It is important that your children understand what is going on in the world, be aware of current events as well as working to develop empathy for others, but it is also important to find balance and play. Play is good relief for both children and adults. If your child is having a difficult time sleeping, develop a soothing sleep routine that may include quiet reading time, calm music and aromatherapy to help him or her slow their minds and fall asleep. Teenagers may need a cut off time for cell phones and social media to help with sleep and reduce the potential for late night headlines causing additional stress. Schedule time to “unplug” as a family and spend time without access to electronics in order to have family adventures hiking, playing games together or making something as a family.
Another way to get out together and find meaning as a family is to help others. One of the reasons watching everything going on in the world feels stressful is that you and your children may feel helpless. Find ways to get involved with relief efforts, marches or rallies. You can support a local shelter or food pantry, do yardwork in the neighborhood, host a bake sale and the proceeds can help those in need. There are countless ways to help. It is also important to find the helpers. Mr. Roger’s famously shared that his mother would encourage him to look for the helpers when times were dark. There is good in this world and it is important to find balance between difficult news and stories or instances of people stepping up and helping others. Make a family challenge to find uplifting stories in the news, watch or read stories about people in history that caused positive change or work to have your family be the helpers and cause the positive change in your neighborhood, school or beyond.
As you work to implement these strategies, remember to keep your child’s developmental stage in mind. The way that you approach stress and difficult times can be educational as well as relationship building for children of all ages. Be sure to use age appropriate language, information sources and stress management skills with your children. One reason listening first is helpful is to allow you to utilize your child’s language into the conversation which will reflect their understanding and increase their ability to relate to your answers. Your child does not need to be aware of ALL of the news that you are aware of and your conversations can also work to help filter current events to fit your child’s developmental understanding. Each child is different and you are the expert in knowing your kid. These strategies are here to help as a starting place but get creative and at the very least spend time with your children and check in with them often to see how they are doing.
If you find that you or your children are having a difficult time managing stress or having intense reactions to the difficulties currently facing our country, that can be a great time to reach out for therapy for you, your child or your family. There is strength in not facing difficult times alone and reaching out for help is a great skill to model for your child. You are not alone in this, and with time, support and conversation your child can work to manage their reactions to this tumultuous time.