With so many negative things going on in the world broadcast in real-time on traditional and social media, how do you talk to your kids about them? That’s where Dr. Dawn Brown comes in. She’s the double-board certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist.
Brown is the CEO and sole practitioner at ADHD wellness center and has two private practice locations in texas. She is also the psychiatrist for 3 clinics in Texas and Illinois. Brown is a proud graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, Saint Louis University School of Medicine and Baylor College of Medicine.
HOW DO YOU START TALKING TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT TRAGEDY?
First, I recommend processing your own feelings and emotional response about the incident. Next, decide on what you want your child to understand about the incident and determine the take away message(s).
Then, use open-ended questions to obtain information about what your child has seen/heard; this should be done before you can answer their questions.
Try to keep complex stories simple and make sure your story is in line with your beliefs (teaching them morals and values of humanity, morally right vs. wrong behaviors, etc.)
For all age groups, focus on the positives (positive imagery, heroes of the story, etc.) and with teens, limit the focus on the traumatic news; redirect the focus on them and how they are feeling about the news.
WHAT CAN YOU SAY WITHOUT GIVING THEM NIGHTMARES OR MAKING THEM EVEN MORE AFRAID?
Ask them directly what they are afraid of and use concrete (simple) language to address their feelings to understand their perspective. Some impressionable minds can misinterpret what they see or hear, so address these perceptions quickly and with direct communication.
Example: “I understand you are afraid, so let’s talk about what you saw or how you feel.”
Reassure their safety by directly stating it.
“You are safe with me and where we live. I am down the hall if you need me.”
“You are safe with discussing your feelings with me. If I understand how you feel, I will be able to help you with managing your feelings.”
AT WHAT AGE SHOULD YOU START TALKING TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT DISTURBING TOPICS?
There are different theories of thought behind this question. Some organizations of authority (American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics) recommend not discussing these topics with children until age 8, however it really depends on the child.
- For example, if it does not directly affect your child, parents may choose not to discuss it.
- Others may choose to discuss it once the child asks questions or the child is exposed to the information.
- If you decide to talk to your children, regardless of their age, it is important to make sure your child feels safe. Be prepared for their possible “different” views, emotional responses and decision-making, especially considering the powerful influences of their friends, social media and TV exposure.
HOW DO YOU HELP YOUR CHILD TO OPEN UP ABOUT A TRAGEDY?
- Start simple-use concrete words.
- Begin with open-ended questions
- Offer frequent encouragement and positive feedback in response to their perspective.
- Be patient and listen.
- Be understanding of their volatile emotions and mood reactions to what they see/hear from their friends, media, etc.
- Use less-intimidating resources by having conversations while performing a task/hobby they enjoy i.e. have the conversation while you both work on completing a puzzle together.
HOW DO YOU REASSURE THEM EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY?
- By assuring them that they are safe and providing them with examples of those safety measures.
- Establishing who they should trust and who you trust will help them if they are ever in danger.
- Teaching them the “majority rule”- it is natural for the majority of our society to be of “good nature.” Therefore, make sure you draw distinction by using words like “majority, most, few, etc.” and simplify the conversation by giving examples of when/where it is the exception.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DO’S AND DON’T WHEN DISCUSSING THEIR CONCERNS?
- Make sure that whenever your child has a question, you have an immediate discussion. You should NOT avoid or allow complex questions to “linger.”
- There are several biases that can affect your and your child’s perceptions. Don’t allow for their impressionable minds to begin to misinterpret what they see or hear. Distinguish good behavior from bad behaviors and explain to them that under no circumstance is a violence response OK.
- Discussing tragedies should be communicated differently, as they are understood differently considering your child’s age, experience/history with trauma and emotions/temperament.
- Help ease the tendencies for children under 8 by stressing what they learn/understand about these events rather than how the final reaction looks.
- Take advantage of their eagerness to learn/understand the significance of what is occurring by asking open-ended and thought-provoking questions (for teenagers). Provide opportunities for independent decision-making and give feedback.
Dr. Brown answers your ‘Text Tom’ questions on the next page: