Blog Post from ‘Motherhood Moment‘.
For children the images and news of military conflicts around the world are beyond comprehension especially with children dead or being held hostage. Many parents are wondering how should they discuss what is playing out on television screens to their children. How should they? What things should parents consider? How do they navigate this? I had a chance to interview Christine Miles, author of the critically acclaimed and award winning book, What Is It Costing You Not To Listen? Miles, with a background in early education and psychology, has a list of tips to help parents discuss what is happening in Israel with their children. She says the key is to fully understand what children are seeing and asking.
How can parents and caregivers be prepared to discuss news events like terrorist attacks, whether it’s in the US or other countries?
Unfortunately, we live in a time where it is commonplace to be barraged with horrific news like the attacks on Israel and Gaza, and the recent mass shooting in Maine. The quick dissemination of images and information from international news organizations to iPhone footage taken by spectators hits the cyber airways at lightening speed. While this quick access offers the benefits of keeping people informed and potentially safe with early warnings, it comes at a price of the mental and emotional well-being of those who are cyber witnesses, most profoundly, our children. Parents can no longer shield their children as they once did, by only sharing information that is developmentally appropriate. With digital access everywhere, children are exposed to these horrific images and news whether they are ready or not. To counteract the inevitable worry and trauma, it is imperative for parents to be ready to discuss these important events and how their children are affected.
What are some things that children need to hear if they see news coverage of events like this?
Children need to hear that their parents will “go there.” The discussions need to happen and not be avoided. It is understandably scary for parents to bring these difficult news events when they may not have the answers themselves and/or they fear talking as the false belief is it may cause more difficulties. Most parents don’t have a formal education on how to discuss difficult issues and topics, and it’s not in the parenting handbook. Human nature is to avoid what we don’t know how to do competently. Children need to know they can talk to their parents about whatever is on their minds. Don’t assume your child will bring up these difficult topics. Your child will take their cues from you, not the other way around.
How can families navigate discussing challenging and scary events with kids?
Change your approach to these conversations. To provide love and support, parents too often focus on how they can reassure their children or try to give them answers to frankly very complex issues that don’t always have obvious answers. The question I get the most frequently from parents is, “what do I say to my children about these events?” My answer, “while I certainly believe there is merit in considering what to say to children to provide some comfort, nothing is more comforting than being listened to”. Each child’s worries, reactions and feelings are unique to both them and the situation with which they are grappling. Instead of telling, take a listening approach. For example, start by asking your child to tell you more about how you are feeling and/ or what is most concerning to them? Then, listen rather than problem solve, provide answers or reassurances. By allowing your child to be open about their feelings and thoughts you uncover the root of their concerns so you can help them learn to navigate these very difficult circumstances in their young lives. By parents listening more and talking less, children build their resiliency, while assuring them they are not alone.
What should parents, caregivers and teachers listen for?
It’s important to listen to how your child is feeling, not just what they are thinking. You may need to list a few feelings for your child to choose from to help them express themselves. For example, do you feel scared, worried, sad, afraid? Then, listen for the emotional cues in their verbal answers, and their non-verbal answers. If their words don’t match their tone or body language, ask them to tell you more. Children need us to listen more deeply by delving beyond the surface to uncover and help them learn to express their emotions. While there are few upsides to the tragedies of these traumatic and charged events, it is an opportunity to help children build their emotional language and deepen their bond and connection with you.