Over the past week we have seen images and watched news that is both concerning and incredibly distressing. For adults, the events at the Capitol add to what has been an unrelenting stream of events in our nation calling for action and response. Managing our distress related to these events is challenging. Those with children have asked how to discuss these events at home. Below are a few suggested guidelines to support our youth.
When sitting down to have conversations with your child, separate your adult feelings from what your child may be feeling, and then approach any conversation with respect to your child’s development and individual need for information.
Consider the age and development of your child—young children need to know they are safe. They may wonder why adults are distressed. Their world is understood through the lens of their own internal perspective and offering a lot of additional context may not always be helpful for them. In some cases, it may even add to their anxiety. Therefore it is important to allow your child to set the pace. Start by asking open-ended questions related to events and check in about feelings. “Have you seen the news?” “What do you understand about what is happening? How are you feeling?” Listen to your child’s response and then provide answers while correcting any misinformation. 1-2 sentence answers to questions is generally recommended and allows the child to ask the next question as a signal that they would like more information. It is okay if conversations are brief; check in within a few days about how your child feels about the conversation and whether they have additional questions. Concrete information that is relatable to the child might include that some people are feeling very upset and angered by election results and wish to express their anger. While anger is normal and okay, destruction of property, harming others, and eliciting violence is neither okay nor helpful.
Older children may be able to relate more of the information they are seeing to the broader world about them. They may be more observant of their parents’ emotions and may need to understand or discuss why this is distressing at home. It is important not to avoid conversations with older children. When information is missing, children may fill in gaps inaccurately which can lead to increased stress and worry. Calmly assure that children have key messages about their safety and the safety of their family and loved ones and continue to check in about how they are feeling. You are your child’s safe harbor and they will take cues from you.
Teenagers will not only be interested in sharing their views on what is happening but may also be interested in taking action. Opportunities to advocate might include simple conversations with others, virtual community forums, discussions at school and within the classroom, and advocacy at a legislative level through phone calling or letter writing.
An Opportunity for Learning and Teaching:
While distressing and worrisome, recent events in the world provide opportunities to discuss strategies for negotiating conflicting perspectives with others. Though challenging and difficult to understand at times, differences of opinion are common and usual. We will not always agree with those we encounter. Those with alternate perspectives from our own reveal opportunities for enhanced learning, healthy self-reflection about our own internal beliefs, and the chance to advocate and take action for what we feel is right. Anyone with a teenager will relate to the fact that heated discussions of ideas and beliefs, while stressful, also pose opportunities for growth. Consider what you wish your child to understand about your own beliefs and how to negotiate differences with friends and peers in ways that are safe, non-violent and meaningful in impacting positive change for all in our community.
We are all dealing with increased stress and will have individualized ways of expressing that stress. Our children will not only notice our stress but also have their own response to what they are witnessing. General guidelines to promote healthy stress management include monitoring both TV and social media exposure, reassuring about safety at home and within the community, helping children focus on what they can (versus cannot) impact and control, and enhancing daily structure. Our nation feels very unpredictable right now. Both adults and children will find comfort and solace in familiar routines and patterns that can increase our sense of predictability. Rest, exercise, time with loved ones, and the occasional retreat into distraction are not only helpful but important in restoring ourselves. And in all things, don’t forget your mask.