With each passing year, I realize how scary life can be. As parents, we constantly worry about our kids. But as we watch events unfold around us, our anxieties can rise to exponential heights. I often wonder how my kids will be able to navigate the terror that exists. Whether it’s natural disasters, wars, political disagreements, or horrifying crimes, our kids will be exposed at some level or another to trauma. Being able to talk with them about these things is so essential. But how do we approach such difficult topics without causing them to completely fear everything?
Why should I talk about world events with my kids?
Talking about scary world events can be hard, especially when we’d rather shield ourselves and our kids from them. I know that I do this! Being bombarded with the sad and heartbreaking realities that so many people have to experience causes me a lot of anxiety, so I often avoid the news. It’s a coping mechanism for many- to just ignore it or block it out so we don’t allow ourselves to feel emotion or pain.
Although overconsumption of news can be toxic, avoiding it altogether is not a good way to cope. In fact, staying up to date on the main events happening in our world can give us opportunities to ponder how we can make changes in our own lives, and how we can best reach out and serve those who need it most in our communities. Just be mindful of how it effects you and take a step back from details if needed.
As we stay up to date on stories happening throughout the world, we may feel that our children don't need to know about them. Some of us want to shield them from scary things, while others just feel it's unimportant to talk about. Regardless of the reason, here are two big reasons to keep kids in the loop as well:
1. Kids are extremely receptive and can often sense when something is going on. If we try to hide our own anxieties and refuse to discuss it with our kids, they may begin to feel anxious about the unknown. We need to be the ones to teach our kids that it’s important to be open and honest, and that it's ok to discuss our feelings.
2. No matter the world event, kids are sure to hear details from someone-whether it's from you at home or kids at school. Many of the details they hear from peers will be untrue or distorted because kids tend to take things out of context or over exaggerate. Talking about these things with our kids first ensures they not only get the details right, but that they can process the intense emotions in the loving and safe space that only you can provide.
How can I best approach the topic with my kids?
1. Process your own emotions first.
I’ve found that I cannot have an effective conversation about anything with anyone until I’ve had time to think deeply and evaluate. Take the time to evaluate your own feelings first. Writing things down in a journal may be helpful if your thoughts are all over the place. This will ensure you can bring up the topic with your kids in a calm manner, and will prepare you for questions that your children may ask.
2. Be honest about what happened.
Honesty is something most of us value, right? We tell our kids constantly to tell the truth. This is why, as parents, we need to always do the same. Don’t lie about events, even if you think you’re protecting them. Lying about details can cause confusion, especially when they talk with their friends about the event.
3. Make it age appropriate.
Although we shouldn’t lie about details in an effort to protect them, it is completely okay to filter out details and limit their exposure from news that may cause them to feel scared or threatened. Our number one priority when discussing these things is to ensure our kids feel safe. Just like you wouldn’t let a 4-year-old watch a rated-R horror film, don’t give your young kids the specifics of a tragic event. Give them basic facts about what happened, and discuss from there. You know your kids best. There is no starting age limit on when to approach hard subjects, but your child’s personality and age must come into account when deciding how you are going to talk about it.
If you have younger children, create an environment for them that will make them feel the most secure. For most young children, being close to them, holding them, and talking at eye level is a great way to make them feel safe. My daughter also loves her stuffed animal bear. No matter what difficult thing is happening, her bear makes her feel safe. In this safe environment you've created, openly discuss the event using simple terminology that will be understood.
Older kiddos will have a greater capacity to understand, so you'll be more likely to discuss at a deeper level. Still keep things to basic facts, and allow them to think critically about and make their own opinions.
4. Let kids ask questions.
Kids are curious, and many kids will have a lot of questions. After giving them the facts about the event, ask calmly if they are confused about anything. This opens up the dialogue and allows kids to freely discuss back and forth with you. If your kids don’t have questions, don’t push them. Some children are more quiet and reserved. Just remind them that if at any time they want to talk more about it, that you are there and can help them.
5. Ask them how they feel.
One of the most important things to do when discussing world events is to ask your kids how they are feeling. Especially for young kids, learning how to identify what emotions they are experiencing can be difficult. Big world events can bring up complex emotions for kids that they’ve never experienced before. Working through this with them can help them feel more safe and secure, which has a lifelong impact on kids’ ability to cope and making them more resilient adults someday. Remind them that it’s normal to feel the way they feel when bad things happen.
Once you’ve discussed these emotions, it’s important to teach kids how we can manage our emotions so they don’t get out of hand. One of the biggest challenges many people face is the inability to cope and work through difficult emotions. As parents, it's our responsibility to teach kids how to cope with struggles and work through their feelings. If you’re not sure how to do that, visit this blog post here!
6. Focus on what you can control and take action.
One of the best things we can all do is focus on what we can control. We can control our own behaviors and how we react to situations we are in. Remind kids that they cannot control what other people do, which is why bad things happen in our world. However, we can make the choice to go out and do good things.
There are so many wonderful people in this world even when it doesn’t feel that way. Too often we forget just how many good and kind acts are happening behind the scenes. And behind those acts are incredible people that are making the choice to do so. Reminding our kids of this simple truth reminds them that even when people make bad choices, there are always opportunities for us to do the opposite!
Recently on Instagram, we asked this amazing community about some good things that people have done for them recently. Here are just a few of the kind acts people shared:
- My son giving me big hugs and kisses.
- Someone dropped off soup.
- A little boy held the door for us so we could get through the door with our stroller.
- My mom letting me vent to her for hours on the phone.
- My friends reached out to me and noticed I was struggling, so they brought us dinner.
- A stranger at the store told me I looked beautiful. I felt like a wreck so it meant a lot!
- My husband made me breakfast muffins for the week- a lifesaver for my busy mornings.
- Loved ones reaching out to let me know how loved I am
- My neighbor took my kids to the park so I could finally get some sleep.
- My husband taking the time to clean the kitchen for me. It’s the little things.
It truly is the little things. Sometimes when chaos is happening in our world, we feel like we need to do huge things to help. But in reality, it’s the little things we do each day to uplift others and to strengthen our families and relationships. Something as simple as a smile or a “you’re doing awesome” are just the things we need to lift our spirits. Those "little" things are really what makes the biggest difference to change the world.