Originally, I was planning to share another post today. But given everything that’s been going on in the world recently, I thought it was better to take a pause.
A pause to talk about these topics, and a pause to discuss how to talk about them with our children.
Over the past week-and-a-half or so, we have seen our country both unravel and come together. We have heard stories of lives tragically lost, as well as accounts of great support for those who need it the most.
Many of us are struggling to understand what is going on around us, and have lots of feelings and emotions about what it all means.
Given how much we may grapple with all of this, it is reasonable to assume our children may be troubled as well.
As a psychotherapist, I have spent years helping others work through difficult events. As a parent, however, I am struggling more and more as I see these events unfolding in the news.
My heart breaks for my children. My two sweet and innocent children, who have no concept yet about what these events mean for their future.
Many people have thought that it is important to shield younger children from these topics. But as we are hearing more and more, our kids are aware and as parents we need to educate them.
Topics like racism and social justice can be complex and come with a lot of emotion. It is normal to feel anxious and unsure in talking with your children about these heavy topics.
While I will be first to admit that I am not an expert on how to talk with your kids about racism (although I am doing my best to educate myself during this time), I want to offer four general tips about how to discuss complex topics with young children.
Process How You’re Feeling First
When something is going on in the world around us, it is inevitable that we will be touched by it. Take a moment to think about how you may be affected and what you should do to work through those feelings.
Our children will always take cues from us, so if we are struggling with it, they will worry themselves. If you make sure to work through what might be going on for you, you will be better prepared to help your child work through whatever they might struggle with.
Let Your Child Guide The Conversation
Start by asking your child to share with you the information they already know about the situation. Ask them what they heard and what questions they may have.
Do your best not to offer more detail than necessary. Realize that when they ask, “Why is this happening?” they are often asking, “Will this happen to me?” Help them to process what they are feeling.
As adults, most of us have figured out how to work through our emotions when these events take place. Our children have yet to learn this and need our help.
Limit Media Access
We all know that during times of crisis, news media outlets tend to be hyper-focused on providing details and replaying events over and over again. Social media sites are often overrun with distressing images and accounts of trauma.
Children who are exposed to this can be subject to what is known as secondary trauma. This is a phenomenon where individuals who were not directly impacted by the event experience distress simply by hearing repeated accounts of what happened.
Another reason to limit media access is to maintain control over the information they are receiving. For young children specifically, it can be very difficult to process the material they are witnessing through media coverage, and much of it is not information they need anyway.
Making sure you are the one to share this information ensures you will be able to support them as well.
Look For The Helpers
Fred Rogers, aka “Mr. Rogers,” famously said, “When I was a young boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
For small children, this is a wonderful way to address tragic events. Talk about stories of heroism. Discuss how people are supporting one another and ways that they can help those in need.
While we can’t 100 percent prevent situations like these from occurring, knowing there will always be people around to help can be comforting for children.
If you need additional resources, please make sure you seek the help of a mental health professional in your community.
Jmore parenting columnist Talya Knable is a psychotherapist who lives in Lutherville with her husband, Stephen, and their two children, Jack and Leigh. Her website is tkpsych.com/. She is also the assistant clinical director of Shalom Tikvah (shalomtikvah.org/), a local non-profit organization that supports Jewish families facing mental illness and other challenging life circumstances.