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Our world has always had its fill of challenges. People from every generation remember where they were and what they were doing for pivotal events in history that forever change us. But for the past few years, our human village has collectively faced one worrying hardship after the next. From the COVID-19 pandemic and families facing health and economic crises, to countries in strife and calls for social justice, we’re feeling the effects from all ends.
As adults, it’s too much even for us. As our kids pay attention more closely than we often think to the news stories on social media and TV and to our own stressed comments, there’s no doubt they’re feeling overwhelmed and scared, too. They may not yet have the words or be developmentally ready to express those big feelings on their own, so it’s up to us as parents and mentors to help them.
It’s important to keep an open line of communication with your kids during tough times. Here are some tips on how to tackle difficult topics in kid-friendly ways.
Consider Their Developmental Age
Small children shouldn’t know all the details of frightening situations. As oversharing can also lead to trauma responses, ask younger children questions to figure out what they already know. Then, go from there. You can have many brief talks instead of one long serious one so as not to overwhelm them. Looking at age-appropriate books, videos and websites together can also help.
For older kids, don’t assume you know what they’re thinking. They might seem to know their facts on the outside, but might be confused and need more direction to help them understand not only facts, but the emotional impacts. They may act less mature and dismissive during tough conversations as a front for their feelings, which is normal.
Practice Active Listening
Make sure to put away all devices during these conversations, maintain good eye contact and don’t talk over them. Help them name and validate their feelings. You can say things like, “you look sad,” or, “I can tell this situation angers you. I can see why.” Show you understand what they feel by mirroring back. An example might be, “I hear you feeling confused about all the big changes our world is going through.”
Encourage and Accept Their Questions
No matter their age, kids will come up with questions you never expected. Try not to react too much emotionally, even if the question is upsetting, and answer to the best of your ability. If you don’t know the answer, it’s OK to say so, letting your child know that you’ll keep talking about the topic at hand as more information becomes available. Let them know that it’s good to be curious and ask hard questions about hard things.
Focus on What You Can Control
Feeling helpless is common in situations we can’t control. Remind your children what they can control, like wearing a mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19, being a good citizen, being kind to their classmates and practicing healthy habits.
Instill Peace and a Positive Outlook
Teaching your children from a young age that peace isn’t being free of troubles, but finding contentment in the midst of them will benefit them their whole lives. As you talk about tough topics, it’s OK to share your true feelings about them while also offering hope for the future and instilling values of kindness, compassion and acceptance. Don’t sugarcoat anything, but also save very frightening topics and details for the adults. Empower your children to “be the change they wish to see in the world,” and comfort them with a calm demeanor.
Volunteering together, donating food, clothing, toys and money to those who need it most, supporting small businesses, writing letters of encouragement to people across the world and spending time talking with people who are older and/or lonely are great ways to instill a sense that we can all make a difference toward healing our communities — together.
Talk to them about it first and the impact it can make. Then, do it. Seeing you model this behavior will lead to them feeling less afraid and more confident that they can do something about hard things. Be creative. The possibilities of how you and your kids can help are endless.
Keeping You Healthy and Whole
At AdventHealth, we strive for your whole-person health — staying well in body, mind and spirit. Keeping communication open as a family is so important to mental and spiritual health. Reach out to your pediatrician or family medicine provider for personalized support. And if you don't have a provider for your family, click here to find one.