How to Talk to Your Kids When Bad Things Happen
You only have to turn on the TV to be bombarded with news of stressful events. It is hard enough that families have to go through the normal stressors of life, but add in the constant onslaught of bad news on the radio and television and it seems like there is no end of difficulties to deal with. Unfortunately, our kids are also exposed to these same stressors and they may not know how to ask you about it or deal with it. Younger children may act out when they are stressed out and older kids may just withdraw from you and turn to their friends or other things, like drugs and alcohol to help them compensate. How should we talk to our children when bad things happen? How can we help them deal with stress?
1. Protect Younger Kids.
As much as you can, protect your younger kids from graphic details of whatever stressor the family may be going through. I’m not asking you to lie to your child but you obviously don’t want your three or four year old to see images on TV of people killed by terror attacks. These images are difficult enough for adults to see how much more a child who clearly will not understand why these things happen and may be haunted by these images for weeks. Even when it comes to serious illness in a family member you should definitely let your children know since this will obviously impact the day to day running of the home, but you don’t have to give specific details they will not understand.
2. Give Explanations of difficult events depending on your child’s age.
With the easy access of information on cell phones and social media, you can only protect your children so much. Give explanations to kids, depending on their ages. When children come to you and ask why other people were attacked for whatever reason, or why people say insulting things about others, you can tell them, “unfortunately some people make bad decisions and take bad actions which affect others.” The older the child is, the more honest you can be. Sometimes these events impact us so much we may get very emotional and give our opinions to our children. I find giving harsh opinions when we ourselves are overwhelmed with the adverse events is seldom a wise decision. Stick to the facts and reassure your children. Have a discussion with older kids if possible and listen to their point of view and correct them when necessary. Try to avoid condemning other people or being overly intolerant of others especially if you do not know all the facts. You may change your mind once you evaluate the whole situation but you may have already given a biased or wrong opinion to your children.
3. Admit Your Fear even as you give hope.
Children are very intuitive and know how we really feel, even when we try to act brave in front of them. It is okay to admit your fear, but at the same time give them hope and hold them close. Yes, you can admit that whatever event you are going through is very stressful but you believe you can get through it together. Point to all the good things we take for granted every day. Teach them strategies to deal with the stressful events, like taking calming breaths or going for walks or sometimes even engaging them in activities. For older children, you can teach them relaxation techniques, or you can teach your children to pray. It’s alright to admit you don’t have control over everything that happens to you in life but we certainly have control over how we choose to respond to these events and teaching especially teens strategies to deal with stressful events, will go a long way towards preparing them for life. It is alright to cry. Your kids will learn, yes you can cry but still pick yourself up and prepare to face another day. It is not good to teach your children to bottle all their emotions in. This can lead to acting out behavior and looking to external sources for comfort and you may not like the comfort they are given then.
4. Keep some Semblance of Normalcy
As much as you can keep some semblance of normalcy in your children’s lives. Children do very well when they maintain their normal routines. If you are overwhelmed by your current circumstances, enlist the help of family and friends. Sometimes you may need to go for counseling, and that is definitely okay. Avoid taking your stress out on your children and lashing out at the people closest to you. Children can start to believe stressful problems are their fault and your partner may withdraw from you for self-preservation. You don’t want to damage your relationships for a stressful event which will ultimately pass. Do your very best to keep life as normal as possible for the family.
We live in a world where bad things can happen. How we deal with the onslaught of negative circumstances will set the tone for how our family as a whole deals with this. When possible, protect your younger children from unnecessary stress. Even older children don’t have to see all the graphic details. Give age appropriate explanations when necessary. Be honest and admit your fears when necessary, but always give hope. Remember, no situation is permanent. Give your children and family members a hug and tell them you love them and assure them you will get through this together. Don’t allow the bad decisions and choices of other people to disrupt the peace and tranquility of your family. Stand firm, and it too shall pass.