Social media and seemingly every news outlet is flooded with stories and images of violence, death, racism, social injustice, political unrest, pandemic among other heavy and unsettling topics. Kids are inevitably feeling confused, angry, and sometimes scared about the seemingly endless stream of troubling news.
Parents also are affected by disturbing current events, and are often struggling themselves to wrap their minds around the heaviness that 2020 has brought with it. There’s really not a “right” answer when it comes to how struggling adults can help struggling kids understand the world they are living in. These are difficult topics to understand and often difficult topics to have conversations about.
Here are some guidelines that could help parents navigate disturbing news about race and violence with their kids:
- Listen and validate
Fundamentally, people need to feel seen and heard. Check in with your kids, ask them what they think about the things you are seeing. Ask how they feel about it. You might be surprised at their perspective, their fears and concerns, as well as the feedback they are receiving from friends and family around them.
Be sure to ask specific questions such as “What do you think about that group of protesters we saw?” “How did you feel about that?”
Older children and teens often talk during some type of activity, like walking, playing a game, riding in the car, going out to eat. Younger children can sometimes express themselves better through drawing and play. The most important thing for parents to remember is to listen and acknowledge their feelings, without trying to fix or repair them.
- Talk about it
Lots of parents say they feel uncomfortable talking about racism or violence. In a lot of circumstances it can be difficult to know how to respond or how to explain what’s going on and put their own feelings into words. The truth is that racism is an ongoing problem in our world. It’s a problem that gets changed by open and real conversations.
Dr. Kenya Hameed, PsyD, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute emphasizes that for most black families, conversations about racism has never been optional. Racism is a daily reality for families of color and conversations can’t wait even if they wanted to.
Dr. Hameed suggests that white families address race and racism with kids early and often. White parents can commit to educating themselves and including conversations about race into their families regularly. Make an extra effort to represent racial diversity in the products purchased for the family, which helps normalize diversity and spark conversations.
- It’s OK to not know
Parents, don’t worry if you don’t have the answers to your kids’ questions! Parents are human, after all and kids ask some pretty tough questions sometimes.Sit with your discomfort and be honest with your kids. Let them know it’s difficult for you to talk about, but that it’s important to talk about. It’s OK to say “I don’t know.”
- Discuss values
Conversations around your family’s values helps children to understand what your family feels is important as well as how to respond to comments from friends and any media they are viewing on TV or social media.
If a parent is hurt, angry, disappointed, sad, it’s powerful to share those feelings with their child. Kids can understand unfairness, frustration, anger, disappointment, fear, etc. Letting them know your feelings can help push a conversation toward coming up with solutions for helping to fix the unfairness.
- Reassure them
All kids are primarily concerned about safety. “Who will keep me safe?” “Will my parents/family be safe?” Talk about safety with your conversation, and reassure kids that you as their parent will do everything possible to keep them and yourself safe.
Reach out to us if you and your family are experiencing stress, increased anxiety and find it difficult to cope. We can help!
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Teen Social Anxiety