Tuesday , 17 October 2017
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Talking with Children About Difficult Topics

By Carrie Brazeal, TSB Contributor

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by everything that happened last week?  First the bombing at the Boston Marathon and then the explosion at West. Add in the fact that the former elected official and his wife were arrested in the Kaufman murders and I’m in overload. How about you? 

I’m not directly affected by any of these events. I didn’t know anyone in the marathon. I have a professional colleague that lives in West and she’s OK. I have no connections to anyone in Kaufman. But for some reason, with all the media coverage on each of these, I felt more stressed than normal. In fact, I was restless and uneasy most of the week. I think it was because of all the media coverage. Every time I turned on the radio, looked at a newspaper, logged onto my computer, or talked with anyone, something about each these events was there and I felt compelled to listen or read. It was extremely difficult to get away from everything. After a while, I just had to quit for my own mental health.  Are you feeling the same way? Most of my friends do.  So if we feel this way as adults, how do you think our children are feeling?

As adults, we want to protect our children from the pain and horror of difficult situations. We would like to ensure that our children have happy, innocent, and carefree lives. But when a disaster fills the airways, or our children experience any kind of tragedy, we need to support them and help them cope.

According to the National Mental Health Association, children experience the same feelings of helplessness and lack of control that adults feel.  But unlike adults, children have little experience to help them place their current situation into perspective.  It’s easy to see how a tragic event can create a great deal of anxiety in children of all ages. Children tend to interpret the situation as a personal danger to themselves and those they care about. 

Whenever any tragedy occurs, more than likely children will look to adults for information.  The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders has these suggestions for parents and other adults dealing with children:

*Let children know you understand their feelings.

*Tell them that they are really safe.

*Keep to your usual routines.

*Educate yourself on how to talk with children about trauma.

Where do you begin when you need to talk with your child about disturbing events?  Talking with children about difficult topics is a challenge.  We want to make sure that we give our children the information that they need, but what do we do when we don’t have the answers to their questions?  Judith Myers, Extension Specialist with Purdue University (www.cyfernet.org/talkchild.html) has these suggestions for talking with children about difficult situations:

*Don’t assume that children don’t know about it. They probably know more than we think. The reality of today’s world is that news travels far and wide.  Not talking about it does not protect children. In fact, we may communicate that the subject is off-limits if we remain silent.

*Be available and “askable.” Let your children know that it is OK to talk about unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel.  By listening, you can find out if they have misunderstandings and you can learn more about the support that they need.

*Share your feelings. It can help them know that others also are upset by the tragedy.  They might feel that only children are struggling. You can also tell them how you deal with these feelings.

*Help children use creative outlets like art and music to express their feelings. Children may not be comfortable or skilled with words to adequately express what they are feeling. Using art, puppets, music or books might help them open up about their reactions. 

*Reassure and help them feel safe. When a tragic event occurs, children may be afraid that the same will happen to them.  It is important to let them know that they are not at risk. Reassure them of your love for them. Often that is all children need in order to feel better.

*Support their concern for people they do not know. They worry about the people who were hurt or experiencing pain in some way and their well-being. Explore ways to help others and ease the pain.

*Look for feelings beyond fear. After reassuring children, don’t stop there. Studies have shown that children also may feel sad or angry.  Let them express that full range of emotions. Support the development of caring and sympathy. 

As parents, we want to shield our children from life’s devastating events. But this is not always possible.  In order for our children to develop coping skills, we must make time to talk with them about all kinds of difficult topics. Remember, if we don’t talk with our children about such incidents, someone else will.  Take some time, determine what you want to say and then talk. It’s not too late, especially if you talk today. You, along with your children, will be glad that you did. 

Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent – Family and Consumer Sciences for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  She may be reached at c-brazeal@tamu.edu or 972.548.4233 or metro 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233. 

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