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Talking to our Kids about Violence

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Yesterday, there was a bomb that went off near the Pyramids in egypt; it hit a tourbus whose occupants had the same itinerary we completed just days ago. Three years ago when we went to Paris, there was also increased police presence as two weeks before we arrived the deadly Paris attacks had taken place. Two years ago, several bombs went off/were found in NYC a couple of months before visited. Same thing w/ London this year (a car mowed down pedestrians near Westminster two weeks before we were there). My kiddos are little now and aren’t really exposed to the news so have no idea this has happened, but they eventually will…. 

Unfortunately it’s a part of today’s world, and whether it is abroad, in the next state over, or in our own communities (as has been the case for many a people when school shootings have taken place), it’s important to help our kiddos address and work through the feelings these events may bring up for them. More importantly, it’s crucial we help them develop coping mechanisms for life’s pain and uncomfortable situations. 

Here are 5 Tips to help us when we talk to our kids about violence:

  1. Age-appropriate dialogue. Remember that each child will have heard or seen different information (think about their social circle and activities) and will have processed it differently. A good rule of thumb is to keep your explanations short and to a level they’ll understand. When thinking of my own pre-school aged kiddos, I would most likely say “Someone hurt  other people at “x location”, thankfully there’s other good people (think of emergency workers) helping them and keeping us safe.” When talking to older children, let them tell you what they have heard and supplement with age-appropriate information while emphasizing: a) communities efforts to come together after tragedies, b) emergency workers efforts to keep everyone safe, and c)individuals’ acts of kindness toward others affected. 
  1. Limit TV watching, news, and violent images – The information our kiddos gather from these outlets not only can increase their anxiety around these tragic events but can also desensitize them to the pain others, and themselves, are experiencing. It’s tempting to have the news on repeat to try to gather new information when these events happen, but this can cause more harm for our families, especially to young viewers who’s anxiety is already heightened. If your kids have heard things from their friends and want to watch the news, this is a great opportunity for you to have a conversation about the event. You can then give developmentally appropriate information, talk about family values (e.g. our family doesn’ tolerate violence), and create a safety plan for your own family in the event of an emergency (e.g. coming up with a safe person or place to go to). 
  1. Reassure them of their Safety. Kids want to feel safe, this is why they will talk about things that are disturbing to them or come to you with questions. Some kids have a harder time expressing themselves verbally but they’ll exhibit behaviors that may catch our eye as atypical to them (e.g. extra quiet, moping, sleeping, hitting, violent play) when these tragedies happen. A key strategy to help restore their sense of safety is to provide our kids with reassurance that there’s many people who love them and are working hard to keep them safe. You can talk about the safety plans your family has created, your daily plans and actions to know where everyone is at at all times, as well as emphasizing that they have some control in keeping themselves safe as well (e.g. calling parents when they arrive places, not wandering off in a parking lot). Mentioning the specific steps that police officers, doctors, fire-fighters, and even politicians are taking to protect us and those affected can reassure your kiddos that there’s a team of kind people focused on everyone’s safety.  
  1. Empower them. Instead of letting their negative feelings take control of their behavior, a positive way for them to take that control back is by thinking of  and acting on things they can do for those affected. Can they donate money to a charity helping the needy? Can they write letters or cards to those families that need support? Can they write thank you cards to emergency workers? If they are older, this could be an opportunity for them to organize a donation drive and even include their friends in their efforts. If we can find ways for them to develop their empathy during these tragic events, they will be more likely to react with kindness and be proactive in their efforts to help (and potentially be less affected by the negative emotions that can also develop).
  1. Learn how to cope with pain and difficult situations-Its easy to try to avoid the conversation so as not to bring up negativity into our kids lives’, but chances are that they’ll hear about devastating events around them either through friends or our own conversations with other adults. It’s best not to avoid these topics and instead teach our kids that we are available to talk and offer support however they may need. In this case, they may simply need us to validate their feelings, an action that is necessary for them to eventually feel better. A simple conversation starter can be “It made me feel scared/angry/frustrated when this happened, how did you feel when you heard about it?”. By having these initial conversations, we can then figure out what’s the best strategy to help them work through negative feelings and manage their emotions; some kids may benefit from journaling, art and crafts, exercising, meditation or deep breathing. As always, it’s important to monitor our kiddos’ behavior after these events, if you feel like your child needs additional help, don’t hesitate to seek a mental health professional. Here’s a couple of other posts that may be helpful when figuring out how to cope with anxiety or tough emotions:  

https://nurtureyoursprout.com/2016/09/16/guided-imagery-and-visualization-for-kids/

https://nurtureyoursprout.com/2016/09/02/progressive-muscle-relaxation-for-kids-and-yourself-too/

Though these tragic events unfortunately seem to be a part of our daily reality, there are ways we can mitigate the effect on our children, focus on the positive, and even help them develop valuable life-skills. I hope these tips can help you when having these conversations with your kids! 

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