Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Do This to Walk the Line: Talking to Your Kids About Natural and Man-made Disasters

Many natural and man-made disasters are in the news 24 / 7 these days.  How can we as parents educate and reassure our kids without completely isolating them from the events?  Let’s take a look at some tips to foster awareness, understanding, reassurance, and empathy during difficult times.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents, teachers, child care providers, and others who work closely with children to filter information about the crisis and present it in a way that their children can accommodate, adjust to, and cope with.

  1. Consider your children’s maturity levels.  For the really young, you may choose to protect them from the news.  For older children, a willingness to follow and discuss what is happening can inform and inspire curiosity, empathy, and discussion.
  2. Set aside other tasks to really talk.  Your child may come to you with questions or concerns when you are busiest.  Be willing to put other things on hold if they seem to need it.

  1. Seek to understand and address what worries your child the most. Listen and ask questions to make sure you really get what he or she is saying and then gently address it on a level they can understand.
  2. Reassure them that you’ll do everything to keep them safe.   Offer love, protection and reassurance that you will do your best to keep them safe.
  3. Put things in perspective.  Put the event(s) in perspective (i.e.  the hurricane was many miles away, we just got a lot of rain.  The authorities are doing everything they can to rescue those in need.)
  4. Pre-screen as much as possible.  Viewing a video clip showing a lot of violence can have a profound effect on a young child. Trust your instincts to guide you on age-appropriate content, avoiding things that may be too disturbing but sharing others that may inform and inspire them.

  1. Let your child know you are concerned or upset, within limits.   It is fine to share your concerns as long as you don’t add fuel to the fire.  Carve out time to check in with yourself and reflect on your thoughts and feelings, reaching out to a trusted friend if needed.  Remember your children are looking to you on how to react and can be easily influenced by your emotions if they are out of control.
  2. Take a time out from all forms of media.  Even when you are ‘hunkering down for the storm’, consider silencing the unnecessary news.  Read, sing songs  or play a simple game of cards to help ALL detach and regain focus. These ‘tools’ in your parent tool kit are always available - just like with a first aid kit, you have to review and make sure the supplies are ready to use.
  3. Turn to a higher source. Whether you hold Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or other belief systems, some type of prayer or reflection can calm and reassure you and your child.

  1. Ask your kids what, if anything, they’d like to do to help.  Move on to what you can do. This is a great time to foster empathy and giving - what can you as a family do to help those impacted by the event? Participating in a local relief effort can help your child feel they are taking action to overcome feelings of helplessness.  Taking action also helps those in need and deepens your child’s empathy for others.
And finally:
  1. Close by reassuring. When the chat is winding down, check to see if questions have been answered and offer to be there anytime your child wants to discuss it more.  

Taking steps to help your child understand world events without becoming overwhelmed by what is happening is an important life skill for you and your loved ones.  Using these tips as a guide can help you navigate any troubling event.

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