Talking to children and teens about news of violence in our communities is a difficult task. Trusted conversations between young people and the authority figures in their lives, like parents or other prominent family members, are an important part of making them feel safe.
Taking the time to engage loved ones in this manner allows families a chance to process tragic events and grieve together.
“Life will present our children with change, tragedy, loss, and illness — we can't avoid it,” said Don Mordecai, MD, national mental health leader for Kaiser Permanente. “Show your children that when they experience extraordinary news, negative emotions, or distress, you’ll be there to listen and to help. Above all else, take steps to be present, honest, and a source of comfort and calm.”
Dr. Mordecai offers these suggestions to help parents and children have these conversations:
- Foster open dialogue. Ask how they are feeling. When talking to your children, you want to be open, but age-appropriate. It’s best to share just the information they’re asking for, and not go into excessive detail on components they may not even be aware of. If you don’t know the answers to the questions your children are asking you, it's ok to say that. Consider researching the answer together.
- Help them find their words. It can be hard for children to express how they’re feeling. Start with open-ended questions to move the conversation along, and let young children use books or pictures to help share their emotions. For older children, suggest writing letters or journaling.
- Validate their feelings. Let your kids know that it’s completely normal to be curious, confused, and even upset about current events. Acknowledge what they've said to you or what they are feeling. Use validating phrases such as “I feel that way too” or “That really makes sense to me.” You can also validate feelings by giving your children a hug or giving them the space they might need to think and process.
- Always give hope. Focus on the fact that the majority of the time, in most places and cities around the world, we are safe. Reassure them that you, their extended family, and the community are committed to keeping everyone healthy and safe during these times.
For additional tips for starting a conversation with your children and getting support for yourself or for someone you care about, visit FindYourWords.