Crisis? How parents can lead by example
"What do we tell the kids?" Whenever there is a crisis of some sort, parents worry about what to tell their children.
We want to protect them from all the bad stuff in the world, yet we know it's not something we can do completely. So, what can parents do? Model what you want
When a stressful situation occurs, we need to remember that our kids are watching us. Children are very attuned to the emotion of a situation, even if they don't completely understand what is going on. If adults are stressed, kids assume they should be too! So, remembering to keep our heads on straight is the first item on the list. If you're feeling overwhelmed by something, take time to catch your breath and get things in perspective before you discuss the issue with your kids. Stick to the facts It is very easy to get caught up in our emotions and lose sight of what is real. Using the question, "What do I know to be true?" can help. Look at each item and ask if it is a fact or something we are perceiving to be true. Remember, social media and the constant news coverage of a major event may make it feel more critical than it truly is. Overwhelm can have something manageable feel completely out of control. It may take a few attempts to separate emotions from actual facts. helps if we continue to ask ourselves, "What facts are there to back this up belief I have?" I remember when our older two children were in school and the attacks of 9-11 happened. It was such a surreal experience watching it occur that morning as I watched Good Morning America. I sat in shock, as did everyone across the nation. A friend called me to ask if I was watching tv, then we discussed what to do with the kids. Do we take them out of school or leave them there? Where would they be safest? (This was way before the days of social media so we got all our news from tv or letters home from school. We didn't have the immediate information back then that we do now.) So, what were the facts? Everything was happening in New York (at that moment). There was no indication of danger for our kids and until we knew more it was best to let them continue on with their day. My one thought was, "I want them to stay kids as long as they can. This event is going to forever shift what we once thought was 'normal.'"
Consider age-appropriate discussions It is up to us to decide if the issue is even something our child needs to know. Some topics are definitely not child-appropriate, such as co-parenting arguments or major financial problems. Others we can discuss in a way that will make sense to them. Helpful questions for you: Is my child mature enough to understand this topic? This isn't just a question about their chronological age, it's also referring to emotional maturity as well. Some kids have the ability to handle things better than others, every child is different. That fateful day in 2001, our kids came home from school and shared, "Some very mean people flew planes into buildings and hurt a lot of people, but the teachers said there are lots of grown-ups taking care of things. " It fit their age and level of understanding. I left it at that for the time being.
Does my child have any control over the situation? When our kids worry about something they have no control over, it ramps up their anxiety. We, as the adults, have to decide how much to tell a child and how to address the issue in a way that won't cause feelings of helplessness and insecurity. Going back to my 9-11 example, those hours and days that followed were brutal. We had more questions than answers as grown-ups, so explaining it to our kids was so hard. Our way to help them feel secure was to remind them that there are a lot of very smart adults all working together to figure things out. We can do our part by reaching out to our friends, seeing who might need a little extra support and being there for them. When we give our kids action steps, they'll feel empowered and part of the solution...giving them a sense of control. "I can help my friends at school. I can write letters to the firemen and policemen who are helpers to thank them." Besides approaching topics in an age-appropriate way and giving our kids a sense of security in uncertain times, what else can we do? 1. Keep news coverage to a minimum For issues in our community or the world, news coverage can be never-ending and overwhelming. Very young children won’t understand that repeated news stories aren't additional occurrences of the event. In addition, the urgent tone of reporters may indicate to our kids they need to be concerned even though we've told them not to be. 2. Limit your conversations When talking to another adult about a crisis, we need to be aware our child may be listening and could misunderstand parts of the conversation which may cause additional anxiety.
3. Ask about discussions at school Older children might be having discussions of “current events” in their classrooms. It is important to ask our child what she is hearing so we can help her sort out facts from “hearsay.” This is also true regarding what's being posted on social media!
4. Talk about safety at school Besides home, school is the place kids spend most of their time. Young children need assurances their schools are doing all they can do to keep them safe. Listen to his opinions on the measures taken and brainstorm solutions to any concerns he may have.
5. Point out the helpers! If we are dealing with a crisis within the family, it's important to make sure the kids know they have someone to talk to. Our kids may turn to us, a favorite aunt or uncle, a grandparent or extended family member. If we have strong ties with our faith, our kids may feel comfortable talking to a pastor or youth team leader. Sometimes it is a favorite teacher our child will turn to as well. Help your kids identify their support system with a simple question. "Besides your dad and I, who are some other people you feel comfortable talking to when you have a problem on your mind? " T Again, for bigger events outside of our home, talk about the teachers in the classrooms, the doctors, nurses, and first responders. It will remind our child that even during times of tragedy, there are many people who are doing the right things, helping others and showing compassion. FIND THE HELPERS!
6. Most importantly, we need to listen to our child and respect and acknowledge his feelings! Some children will get stressed out about anything out of the ordinary, while others take things in stride. If a child shares his fears, reflect his feelings and talk with him about it. “I understand that what happened is making you sad. Let's talk about some things we can do about the situation that could help you feel better.” This will acknowledge feelings and then empower our child by brainstorming solutions.
One last thing... There are very stressful times in life, it's just a part of our journey. Two things I highly recommend for parents are 1) taking time for self-care and 2) building a support system around ourselves and our family. With these two things in place, we will feel more in control which will allow us to demonstrate coping and problem-solving skills for our children. Please feel free to share this article with friends and family! Not on our email list? Click here so you don't miss out on future tips and strategies for parenting and stepfamily life! Photo by cottonbro from Pexels