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How to Guide Children Through Troubling News

How to Guide Children Through Troubling News

Laura Ellsworth

If you know someone who isn’t having a bit of a rough year, I’d like to know where they live because the trials of 2020 are global, and while we all come to terms with the world around us, many of us need to try to explain it to our children, which can pose it’s own set of difficulties.

I asked Kate Giandonato, LCSW, and practice Owner, Kate Giandonato & Associates in Chicago for her advice for parents struggling to explain what’s happening in the world right now to their children.

Ask if They Have Questions

“Usually the questions that they have are different than the ones adults would expect/anticipate. Answer the questions that are asked and then ask if there is anything else that they would like to know,” said Giandonato. Listen to them and check in periodically to facilitate discussion.

Definitely do not leave your kids out of the discussions in your home, because it can have its own repercussions. “We tend to want to shield folks from the news and current events.  However, this is a disservice and leaves young ones to draw their own conclusions and determinations without our support and help along with an age inappropriate perspective of what is required of them,” said Giandonato. This can potentially lead to parentification, anxiety, depression, and anger among other things.

When is the Right Time?

Giandonato points out that every family and child are unique, and they need to assess what children are prepared to discuss on their own values and experiences. “I will say that kids, when information is presented calmly and with support, astonish me in what they are able to know, understand and integrate,” she said.

She recommends that parents and caretakers get on the same page about what they are comfortable sharing. She also emphasizes that as parents, we need to be emotionally ready to have these discussions.

Sara Bishop, Associate Minister at Melbourne Welsh Church and Vicar of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church agreed. Adults, she said, aren’t always great at this and it requires vulnerability and self-awareness.

Children, she said, need “calm and quiet presence, but to know you are there… it isn’t the explaining to kids part that is hard, it is the being an adult about it part – particularly when we are not feeling oh so very adult at all.”

Words Matter

Bishop recommended steering of platitudes such as “look for the helpers”. She pointed out this famous piece of advice actually helps adults feel better, not children. When it comes to children, you are the helper and they are looking to you for calm, so saying that is akin to saying “look for something blue”.

See Also

Giandonato also cautioned against phrases like “don’t worry, everything will be fine” if you can’t back that up. She instead recommended phrases such as “things feel pretty scary right now, what do you need to feel safe, and how can I help?”

How You Say It Matters

“More than anything,” said Giandonato, “children notice and respond to our energy and sentiment. If we are anxious or unsure, that [feeling] more than our words will be transmitted to the child leaving them unsure and dis-regulated.”

Take Care of Yourself

Because children pick up on our cues, it is really important that we take care of ourselves first. Giandonato likens it to putting on your own mask on an airplane before assisting your child. “Parents need to get what they need so they are able to be present for kids.”

So if you are aware you are in need of help processing your emotions right now, reach out to your network and seek help where you can. You are definitely not alone in feeling out of control of the world, but it’s foremost for the people you support to ensure you are okay.

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