If you’re a parent, grandparent, or caregiver of a young person, you know that the world can be a scary place. Every day brings new and challenging headlines about natural disasters, political upheaval, terrorism, pandemics, crime, cyber bullying — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With all these unsettling current events happening around us and to our kids as well as our kid’s online world, we need to think about how we can help them cope with it all healthily. It’s so important for parents to talk openly with their kids about these things, so we equip them with information and tools that will help them be safe and strong during troubling times.
A word of caution before you talk to your kids about unsettling current events.
It’s super important that we ground ourselves before we talk to our kids about anything, even if it’s something as seemingly innocuous as current events. This means taking care of your own needs, emotions, and energy levels. We can’t be a source of guidance and strength for our kids if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Our kids don’t get what we don’t offer. We can’t control what our kids see on the internet, but we can help them navigate it. What we can do is help our kids develop critical thinking skills so they can be critical of the information they find online and make excellent decisions about what to believe.
Stay present and be ready to listen.
This is advice for both parents and kids. When we are in a state of panic or fear, it is not the best state to be in when trying to help a child through these feelings. For kids, this is also a reminder that their parents are in control and have everything under control. That there is no need to panic. That they are safe. For parents, it’s important to let go of any expectations that you will fix everything (because you can’t). Let your child know you are there to support and listen to them. Let them know they can express their feelings and they don’t have to keep them inside if they don’t want to.
Be mindful of what your child views and reads.
You could go down a rabbit hole of trying to monitor or curtail your child’s every online move. You don’t want to create a situation where your child becomes afraid to go online because they are worried about making mistakes or experiencing consequences. If your child is experiencing anxiety or has questions about something they saw or read online, you can use that as a chance to start a conversation about how to handle scary or upsetting information. For example, if your child read an article about a school shooting, you can ask them how they felt when they read it. Then, you can talk about how the article is not real and is simply someone’s opinion. One of the best ways to protect your children from harmful and/or upsetting online content is to equip them with the proper tools and knowledge. The best way to do this is by starting a conversation about the internet and how it works. You can also encourage your child to be mindful of the content they’re consuming online.
Help your child find a sense of belonging.
We all want to feel like we belong and that we’re a part of something. This is true for kids, who are still trying to find their place in the world and their place in a group of friends. If your child is in the middle of a natural disaster or political upheaval, it can be even harder for them to find a sense of belonging. They may feel physically and/or emotionally unsafe, or people who feel/act differently than them may surround them. People who have the same feelings and emotions but don’t know how to talk to their children about them may surround them. As a parent, you can help your child find a sense of belonging by talking to them about their feelings. It is ok to be scared and sad. Allow them to know that their feelings are valid. Listen to them and let them know you are there to support them. Let them know their feelings are normal. Let them know you are there for them and ready to talk.
Help your child build resilience.
Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from challenges, trauma, or loss. It’s the ability to not be knocked out by life’s punches, but to get back up and keep going forward. What we can do as parents are to help our children build resilience. We can help them be prepared for whatever life throws at them. We can help them be ready to face their fears and challenges. When life knocks them down, we can help them bounce back. Let your child know that whatever happens, they will be OK. Let them know they are strong to face their fears and challenges. Let them know they can handle whatever life throws at them. Give them the tools and knowledge they need to be resilient when life knocks them down.
We can’t control what our kids see or what they experience. What we can control is how we react to those situations and how we can help our kids deal with their emotions and reactions. By engaging in honest and open dialogue with your kids about their online experiences, you can facilitate a healthy coping mechanism that will be useful throughout their lives.
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