It saddens me that the reason for this post is largely due to the recent tragedy this week in Las Vegas, Nevada where many lost their lives in a senseless act of violence. As I reflect on this, my mind immediately goes to my clients, who are mostly children. Although I do not practice in the state of Nevada, these types of situations make national headlines and it is likely the clients I see will be impacted by this in some way. We as adults have trouble wrapping our minds around the violent events which impact our society, so imagine what a child’s mind must be experiencing. Fear, confusion, sadness, and uncertainty are likely feelings which the children in our lives experience when they hear about these types of events. In an effort to assist parents, educators, providers, and caregivers I felt it would be helpful to review some ways we can help the children in which we care for better process the emotions they may be feeling.
1. Talk To Your Child
I understand many have very personal beliefs and values around what is discussed with their children. I also understand many may find discomfort in allowing their children to learn specifics around events which are violent in nature. It is important to first acknowledge yourself, as the adult, what you are and are not comfortable disclosing. You can still talk with your child and process their feelings without breaching your personal values and beliefs in the process. Also, be mindful of your child’s current developmental status as well as their current emotional maturity. What you discuss and how you discuss things will vary depending on age, development, and emotional maturity. You would not discuss the events with a 5-year-old in the same way you would discuss the events with a 16-year-old. And since we live in a world where news travels fast thanks to social media, it is likely your child will be reading A LOT of information regarding the events if they are old enough to access these resources. We as adults have the ability to decipher what is an accurate source of information and what is not, whereas children have not yet perfected this and often believe much of what they read online. In an effort to reduce false information, it is usually best for the information to come from you, as the adult. That way, you are not only shielding them from misinformation but also ensuring you are censoring (as you see fit), the information which is relayed to them.
2. Answer Their Questions
It is likely your child will have a lot of questions about what happened. Like adults, they will want to try to make sense of such a senseless tragedy. Provide a safe space for your child to ask the questions they feel the need to ask. Inform them they can ask you anything they wish and allow them the space to feel comfortable enough to do so. If they feel as though they cannot ask questions, they will likely turn to other resources to have their questions answered, again risking the information they read to not be the most accurate and/or appropriate. Now, sometimes we as adults cannot handle answering questions or having these discussions because we are too triggered ourselves. If this is the case, that is ok. In a child’s eyes, you are a superhero but in reality you are a human being too. Know yourself and know your limits. Perhaps think of someone else you know and trust who could step in and assist you in answering your child’s questions. You can explain to your child that this is too difficult for you personally to discuss but want them to feel as though they are being heard, which is why you are directing them to another source. Lastly, if your child asks a question you do not feel comfortable answering, that is also ok. Do not become angry or frustrated with them for asking, but instead calmly explain your reasons as to why you do not feel comfortable asking that question. Then process that response with them so they do not feel shut down.
3. Validate Their Feelings
One of the most emotionally damaging things we can do as adults is make children feel as though their feelings are not valid. You may not agree with your child’s feelings all of the time, but they are still entitled to feel they way they do. If you are talking with your child and they begin to express their emotions, encourage them to continue to do so. Validate that what they are feeling is likely very common for the situation. If you are talking with your child and find they are not opening up about how they feel, ask them. Sometimes children just need permission to express themselves. If they do not wish to share, that is also ok. Remind them that when they are ready, you are there to listen. You can even share your own feelings around the situation, to show that it is OK to have a lot of emotions around tragic events. This will prevent your child from keeping their emotions bottled up and later coming out in a potentially negative way. This will also allow for your child to know you are a safe person to talk about their feelings with, during times of tragedy or otherwise.
4. Talk About Their Fears
Honestly, even as an adult in today’s world it is hard to feel safe. We are aware of all of the dangers which surround us and we do our best to shield the children in our lives of many of these dangers, but national tragedies will highlight so much of what we try to shield. As a result, your child will likely feel scared. Again, whether you live in the area which was impacted by the tragedy or not, your child may feel unsafe in their surroundings. They may be fearful of going to school, to the mall, or to an event they have scheduled. Again, validate these fears for them. Let them know their fears makes sense and are OK. If you process these fears with your child, try to pinpoint specific fears. In doing this, you will be better able to help them identify ways to feel safe in those specific situations. For example, reminding them they are safe at home, and why. Reminding them they are safe at school, and why. Identify safe people they can go to if needed in the various settings they occupy. Come up with safety plans for when they are going out to a public place for errands or if they are going to an event to help reassure them. Also, prepare to get the “But how do you know we’ll be ok?” question as this is very common, especially for younger kids. The reality is, you don’t know. We can’t predict the future and we have no way of knowing what tomorrow brings. All we can do is prepare and plan the best we can and that is what will be important to relay to your child. If their anxiety persists following these discussions, remind them of their coping skills which help them reduce anxiety and stress.
5. Limit Their Exposure
After national tragedy strikes, it seems the information is on repeat for days, weeks, or even months depending on the nature of the situation. While it is absolutely important for we as adults to stay informed on the situation, it is not as important for our children as this can cause continued emotional distress for them. Children will likely be hearing about the information from their peers, teachers, and other adults in their life through everyday chatter. Also, if they are old enough to be on social media, they will likely continue to see information through those venues as well. Try and limit the amount to which they are exposed. Be mindful of when the news is on. Be mindful of the discussions you as the adult are having with other adults around them. Be mindful of the content in which they have access to through their social media accounts.
6. Stick To Your Routine
In the wake of tragedy, if it easy to become preoccupied and thrown off of the everyday routine. Remember, children need routine. They do best when their lives have structure and consistency, especially during times of heightened anxiety and stress. Do your best to keep their everyday routine as consistent and stable as possible. This will help them feel safe and stable. This will also help you as the parent maintain a sense of normalcy as well.
Remember, what you talk to your children about and how you talk to your children is your decision but the most important thing to remember is to TALK to them. Also, remember to take care of yourself too. Just because you are a parent does not mean you are void of your own feelings around these types of events. Remember your own coping skills, your support people, and your needs too. You cannot be the best support for your child if you are not taking care of yourself as well.
I would LOVE to know what spoke to you today and encourage you to comment below and share with me!
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