Talking to Kids During Dark Times
Another shooting in the news today, but this time it was in my community. Early morning – runners are out for their morning job, parents are getting kids ready for school, and people are on their way to work like every Monday morning. Except this Monday morning, a lawyer and resident of our community loads his gun and begins shooting randomly in the area he frequents and lives nearby. People are screaming, kids are watching, and everyone is startled and unsure of what is happening. It’s like it’s not even real; how can it be real in their community? The chaos finally ends with the shooter being killed. Those wounded are transported to the nearest medical center, and a once protected peaceful community is changed forever.
Understanding why atrocities like these occur and frequent our daily lives is difficult for adults, let alone children. However, talking to your children during dark times is necessary. Restoring security, unity, and confidence begins at home. To save a city we need to begin with the communities and families. Take time to be with your kids and talk to them about what happened. Discuss the importance of being brave and hopeful about the future. Here are some tips that can help:
Stay calm. Parents are a barometer for their children, and children are skilled with reading anxiety and stress.
Avoid blaming. When you blame anyone for a terrible action based on their gender, race, or religion, you are reinforcing prejudice and fear in your child for life.
Reassure your child. Make a plan and talk to your child about what you would do if something like this tragedy happened in your family. An emergency plan helps children feel more secure.
Keep the routine at home. Playtime, stories, and normal routines provide security and distraction for your child. All of these are comforting.
Limit media. Your child doesn’t understand replays, breaking news, and reenactments of the horror; they think the tragedy is continuing. This can cause anxiety and/or depression and can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Spend extra time together. Kids are most comfortable and secure when mom and dad are around.
Demonstrate kindness and charity with your child. Kids like to help, and there is always someone you can help during dark times. Planting a tree, praying together, or writing a letter to a police officer thanking them for keeping you safe helps your child feel needed and useful.
Listen and allow your children to talk about how they feel. It’s important to listen to your kids; it allows them to express themselves without fear. Sometimes kids will act out, get angry, and misbehave under stress. Talking to them or having them express their feelings by drawing is a good way to help them.
Be aware of early signs of emotional distress. If your child is going through a major change at home or has experienced trauma in the past, they may lapse into depression when bad things happen around them. Kids at risk should be monitored for mood or behavior changes that are new and continue. Talking to a therapist, clergy member, or mental health professional is recommended.
Consider what Mr. Rogers’ mother use to tell him in dark times. She would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Teach your child to notice the good in the world instead of fixating on the bad. We all need that right now.