The news coming out of Paris in November felt shocking, scary and sad. Since that time, many parents have asked for our take on the best way to discuss these kinds of situations with their children. Wanting to do the right thing, and not knowing quite what to say, some parents have shifted the subject and decided not to say much.
At Parenting Power, we believe that kids really need the family to feel like a safe place when the world at large feels scary. The root word of courage is “coeur” or heart. Love is the strength we need when we feel fear. As parents, we really can help our kids to feel that love and strength in scary times.
See which of these tips might work for you:
- If you have children who are too young to have seen or heard anything about the terrorism, you don’t need to introduce it to them. Please be clear that if you are watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio when they are home, they are hearing it and do need some clarity – even if it is in very simple, age-appropriate terms:
There were some scary things on TV. Thankfully, our family is safe and there are lots of people trying to help.
- Be very aware of how often you are checking the media about this topic. Many children have difficulty understanding that news agencies have to fill their air/screen space with news on a recurring basis. When kids hear about the killings every 15 minutes, they may feel that a new killing is happening every 15 minutes. Gather your information and then turn it off while the family is present (or choose to listen only when your kids aren’t around and then relate the details that you feel are relevant.)
- Make yourself aware of what your kids are hearing and understand about the situation. They are likely hearing about it at school, extra curricular activities and when out with friends. A good way to talk about any uncomfortable issue with your children is to start out by asking them questions:
Have you been talking about world events at school?
What have you heard about the event?
How are you feeling about the situation?
When we start with a question, we have the opportunity to find out what our kids know, to correct misinformation and then to have a discussion.
One of our favourite books, The Family Virtues Guide by Linda Kavelin Popov, refers to the virtue of tolerance:
“Tolerance is being able to accept things that you wish were different. When you practice tolerance, you don’t expect others to think, look or act just like you. You accept differences. When you are practicing tolerance, you are able to sort out what is important from what is not.”
This is a great time to check in with the family and decide what is truly important to your family.
- Fear is often linked to a feeling of powerlessness. When we talk about these scary things with our kids, we get to talk about our values and beliefs. These feel concrete and safe. In addition, we can give our kids a feeling of power (how we can effect change) by figuring out what our family will do in the face of this situation.
What can we do today to help?
How will we make today feel better?
How can we show respect for all human beings?
What can we control?
The reality is this: if we don’t quite understand what is happening, how can we expect our kids to make sense of it? They need to know that they have a safe place to ask questions and that the family will face the adversity as a team.