The whole country is talking since the tragic shooting last week in a high school in Florida. There are heated debates on how we can better protect our children in schools. These conversations are extremely important and, while I don’t want to turn this post into that debate, they absolutely need to happen to make any progress. But for today, I want to talk about how we can discuss these events with our kids.
As much as I would love to just allow my children to be kids and shelter them from events like these, I can’t monitor the things they hear 24/7. They will walk into the room while we’re watching the news. Kids at school whose parents don’t filter exposure will say things that are sometimes inaccurate or beyond their limits of comprehension. I find it extremely important to begin the conversation at home, allowing them the benefit of my guidance as they process tragic events.
I wrote last year about talking to kids about tragic and devastating events in the news, but in light of these recent events and the non-stop conversation surrounding them, I felt it was important to share some more thoughts on this topic.
Consider Their Age
My children are late elementary and middle school aged, so my conversation may not sound exactly like yours in your kids are younger or even older. Every child has their limits on how much information they can process and what intensity of information is appropriate for them. Their age and demeanor are huge factors in the conversation that you will have. You know your child best so go with your gut.
Listen, Don’t Just Talk
It can be very tempting to tell your kids what they should think and feel about the things that they’re seeing in the news or that they’re hearing from their friends. However, it is crucial that you give them a chance to share their own thoughts, feelings, impressions, and fears. They may not even be on the same page that you are and that could end with oversharing on your part or glazing over an important point of concern that creates even more fear and anxiety.
Validate Their Feelings
Kids can develop some irrational ideas when their imaginations run wild. Let them talk about these scenarios that concern them and take care not to belittle their feelings or anxieties. Let them know that it’s okay and understandable to feel whatever they feel and try to reassure them with realistic thoughts that might help to allay their concerns.
Be Reassuring Without Being Condescending
Again, children can sometimes come up with unfounded and irrational scenarios or takeaways from a tragic or frightening event. Your gut reaction might be to laugh it off and tell them that their ideas are silly or impossible. Consider your words carefully when you react to the things your child is sharing. Reassure them that you can understand why they might have that idea, but here are the rational reasons that particular thing shouldn’t cause them to worry or be afraid. When you avoid a condescending tone, you reinforce the point that they can always talk to you and it can help to keep the lines of communication open.
Share Your Own Feelings
It can be difficult sometimes for children to communicate their feelings effectively. By talking about your feelings, and of course filtering this conversation to their age and emotional reactions, they can begin to better understand their own emotions and reactions to disturbing news. While you don’t want them to take on your own fears, letting them see that you do have them and that you have a process for handling them can be a huge help to them.
Check Back in Regularly
Just as your own feelings change and develop with time, your children’s thoughts, impressions, fears, and anxieties can change. None of us can forget the way we felt on September 11, 2001, but few of us can say that we have the exact same reactions and emotions when we think about that day today. While you don’t need to dwell on tragedies, revisiting conversations that you’ve had can help you to see how your child is processing and handling their own emotions.
Parenting is never easy. There is no cut and dried script that you should use when discussing acts of violence and tragedies that are beyond the realm of even our own understanding. What is important is that we don’t put our heads in the sand and avoid having difficult conversations. Yes, we want to protect the innocence of our children, but we need to be realistic about how far that protection will reach. By starting the conversation at home, we can help them to control their fears and anxieties about the world around them.