We've all been affected by the disturbing images of the Capitol Hill riots that have taken over our social media feed in the last couple of days. As parents of young children, haven’t we all wondered what to say to our kids and how to address it? There is also a sinking realisation that this isn't the only time that we will have a conversation like this. Shocking news unfurls in front of us all the time, be it calamities caused by natural disasters or tragic events that unfold through man made disasters.
The truth is, that our little ones are privy to all kinds of shocking news. And while we may protect them to the best of our ability from media reports, little bits of information will always filter through. Whether its the underlying emotions of anxiety, shock or fear that they sense in their parents, or whether it's snippets of overheard conversations between the adults in the room or whether it’s the innocently passed on interpretation of the events in the eyes of a peer, our little ones unconsciously develop their own perspective of what is happening in the world around them.
They need an adult to help them navigate their emotions and feelings and address their questions as they endeavour to make sense of it in their own heads. As parents, we cannot assume that they are not affected or are not aware of what is happening.
So, how do we tackle the elephant in the room?
1. Begin by checking on what they already know. Do not assume that your children don't know what's happening or the extent of their knowledge. Ask probing questions to understand the extent of their knowledge and their source of information. Did you hear about..? What have you heard? What do you think is happening? Where did you hear about it or see what happened ?
2. Ensure that your child knows that she/he is safe. When disturbing images come floating through the TV screen, it's hard for a young child to distance themselves from the events that are unfolding in front of them. Be specific about locations and how far it is from your place of residence. Reiterate that you are safe where you are.
3. Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Don't rush in to fix how they're feeling. Sometimes, we tend to use logic immediately and brush away their emotions. By providing space for them to voice their concerns and fears, it helps validate their emotions. Talk about how you're feeling too. It reassures them that their emotions are natural and they don't have to hide it or pretend in any way. How does that make you feel? It's alright to be scared. I'm scared too. Sometimes I also feel angry. What about you?
4. Do not overload them with information. Limit the details to relevant and age appropriate information but keep it truthful and accurate. Leave out the unnecessary sordid details and graphic explanations. Provide them with factual details of what you know.
5. Ask them if they have any questions. Answer all their questions honestly. Don't shy away from uncomfortable topics. It's okay to say "I don't know the answer but maybe we can find out together." If they want to probe further or get more clarity on the situation, offer to do it with them. This helps you to understand what their concerns are and be a part of the process, so you can monitor the media content to which they are being exposed. And you can address any further questions that arise as a result.
6. Address why an incident whether natural or manmade may have taken place. What are the reasons that led to the incident happening? What could have been done differently? Sometimes, people act differently than what your children are accustomed to and what they have been taught. Explain to them that as a family, you have rules concerning behaviour that you abide by and that is right for your family. Similarly, there are rules that are set by a government for its people and those rules need to be followed. And sometimes, certain people don't follow those rules, but, don't worry, there are other people out there whose job it is to keep people safe and they are working very hard to do their job.
7. Provide your children with tools to address their anxiety or worry. "I know you're worried. Sometimes, when I'm worried, I find that taking deep breaths makes me feel a little better. I also like cuddling up next to you and reading a book. What would you like to do that would make you feel better?" We all feel comforted when we have a sense of control. Make a plan. If there is something that is concerning your child about what may happen next, talk it over and come up with a plan for what you would do and how you would tackle it if the situation should come to pass.
8. Try and stick to your normal routine as much as possible. Children rely on routine. It grounds them in the most difficult of circumstances. Avoid having the television on the whole day and having the same conversation over and over. Focus on your daily routine and activities. Spend some quality time cooking, listening to music or watching a show.. .anything that reiterates a sense of safety, security and consistency in their lives.
While the above tips will hopefully help, unfortunately it isn't a one time conversation. Keep an eye on your little one. Keep checking in from time to time and most importantly, keep the conversations going. The world is a complicated place and our little ones need all the help they can get to navigate and make sense of the world that they live in.
This article is written by Akhila Das Blah, early childhood expert and Chief Storyteller at www.indigrowkids.com. indigrow, is a culture play company, creating a play based content ecosystem inspired by different cultures around the world for early childhood. indigrow's mission is to diversify every playroom using culture play to nurture empathy & imagination in the next generation.
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