In times of civil unrest, violence in the media and feelings of uncertainty, confusion, anger and frustration, it is difficult for parents to know how to support their children. Parents themselves are overwhelmed and confused about current events, trying to process their own emotions, but then also trying to coach and support their children during difficult times.

Parenting is exhausting in the best of times. Many parents feel that their emotional batteries are running on empty, leaving limited remaining resources to find ways to help themselves or their children to cope. We hope that these recommendations can provide some direction and reassurance for parents as they navigate having difficult discussions with their children:

  • Talk to your kids
    • It’s important for parents to go to their children and initiate conversations about hard things. We don’t want the media/their peers being the first to inform them.
    • Let your kids know that it is serious: “I want to talk about something serious and sad. We will all have big feelings about it.”
    • Reassure them while you talk — come to their level, make eye contact, provide a comforting touch on their shoulder.
  • Use developmentally appropriate responses
    • Parents should answer questions honestly and simply, providing limited information for younger children.
    • Avoid extreme emotional language and stick to the facts.
    • Remind children of the laws, rules and values that help keep everyone safe. Talk about violence not being okay and how kids can practice kindness to others.
  • Limit exposure to news and social media
    • Parents should closely monitor media exposure for kids (and teens) of all ages, being aware of what sources children are exposed to and appropriateness of content for their age.
    • For children who are asking questions or interested in knowing more, it is best if parents can watch/read/listen to news coverage with kids. Parents can be available to answer questions, interpret events and share family values.
    • For all of us (adults included) too much media exposure will increase feelings of anxiety, stress, helplessness and even hopelessness — so it is important for parents to model stepping away from media (putting down our phones!) and helping kids avoid over-exposure of coverage of ongoing events.
  • Listen to your kids
    • Let them know it’s okay to ask questions and you are a safe person to talk to.
    • Encourage them to express their thoughts, questions and feelings. Remember, it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to feel uncomfortable.
    • Help them label their emotions (“I hear that you are feeling angry/scared/frustrated. And it’s completely normal to feel that way. I feel angry/scared/frustrated, too.”).
  • You don’t have to have all the answers
    • Parents do not have to have all the answers.
    • It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll look into that and try to find a good answer.”
  • Reassure your children that they are safe
    • Especially for preschool and elementary-age kids (but even for middle-schoolers and teens), it’s important to reassure your children that they are SAFE and that their family/friends are SAFE (or how everyone will get to safety if you are unsure).
    • Remind your children of what is staying the same — stick to their normal routines (this helps children feel safe and secure).
    • As a family, take Mr. Roger’s advice and “look for the helpers.”
  • Practice (and model) self-care
    • During difficult times, parents need to intentionally create time for self-care and thoughtful reflection. This will help increase your emotional bandwidth to care for your kids. Plus, it’s great to model healthy coping for your kids. Get exercise, reach out to friends/family for support, take a walk, listen to music, practice your art or take deep breaths.
  • Resources

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Laura GrayLaura Gray, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at Children's National Hospital.
Allison Ratto Allison Ratto, PhD, is a psychologist in the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National. She specializes in assessment and treatment of ASD and related developmental disorders, particularly in young children and intellectually delayed individuals.

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