With recent world events, it can be easy to forget that kids are little sponges of information and emotion – and can easily feed off our fears and what we say and do. Susan Stiffelman, a family therapist and best-selling author who writes regularly about parenting, opened up to Us Weekly about her top six tips for discussing national tragedies with your children. We wanted to share them with you:
- Turn Off the News. “After a tragedy, many people keep the television on to feel connected with others who are also struggling to cope,” Stiffelman says. “Children are easily overwhelmed by somber newscasters repeatedly sharing frightening images and worrisome updates.”
- Answer Only the Questions That You Are Asked. “If your child says, ‘What happened?’ first ask him what he has heard,” says Stiffelman. “Tailor your response to his specific question to avoid flooding him with information.”
- Steer Clear of Abstract Concepts. If you are presented with the question “Why did that man shoot people?” Stiffelman advises that you avoid complex explanations around radical religious beliefs. Instead, she recommends responding with, “No one really knows why this person did such a terrible thing. But we do know that he was very confused in his mind.”
- Make It Safe to Come to You for Help With Big Feelings. “Simply saying, ‘Don’t worry!’ teaches children to repress their worries, which can fuel chronic anxiety,” Stiffelman says. “If your child expresses fear, tell her you’re glad she came to you for help.
- Offer Practical Reassurance. According to Stiffelman, children are egocentric and often wonder whether they could be subject to similar acts of violence. “Remind your child of the millions of gatherings that happen safely each day and the thousands of people who are hard at work to keep us safe,” says the Parenting With Presence author.
- Teach Tolerance. “While many of us feel powerless in the aftermath of tragedy, there is something we can do,” Stiffelman explains. “We can conduct ourselves in a way that makes it clear to our children that all people are worthy of respect. Model for your children the fact that every human life is precious and you will be helping stem the tide of hate-fueled violence.”