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How do we talk to children about a topic that is sad, scary, and emotional?

As our children hear and learn about scary events that are happening around the world it can be hard for us parent’s and care takers to know exactly how to answer their questions and talk to them about it. Dr. Mary Goodarzi, child psychologist, has laid out 5 ways to help address and navigate uncomfortable conversations about unpleasant current events. Read what she has to say below:

  1. One thing parents can do is to try to eliminate the news being on around the kids as much as possible. They hear everything and may not be able to understand what they’re hearing or process it. 

  2. My daughter overheard me say the words “shooting in Texas” and that was all she needed to hear to ponder about it for the rest of the day. I knew that even though she may be too young, it’s better to address this as appropriately as I can for her very young age rather than distract the topic and hope she’d forget (ps. They never forget, they just learn that they can’t talk about confusing/big things for them that may cause BIG feelings to their parent Or themselves). This is not a topic I had ever planned on having with my not even 4 year old. I was torn on what decision to make:

  3. So, I turned around and got to her level and said, “You heard me talk about something that you may have never heard before. I’m going to explain to you what happened today- there was someone who brought something to a school that he isn’t allowed to. The thing he brought could hurt a lot of people.  “I know this is a lot of information that you haven’t heard before- is there any feeling you have right now that you want to share with me?” We discuss two feelings that she brought up and then she asked “what did he bring to the school?” And, I paused and said “a weapon. And a weapon is something that is used to usually keep people safe but can also hurt people when not used the correct way. Weapons are not toys and it’s what police officers use to keep people safe (and I explained how she saw a weapon on the uniforms before when she met police officers recently). She then proceeded to ask what kind of weapon the man had and I hesitated to say anything here. I felt as though a sense of innocence would be lost forever - I don’t know if I made the right choice but I said “He had a gun and I know you’ve never heard that word before. This type of weapon can protect people but also hurt a lot of people if not used what it’s supposed to be used for”. And, then I paused to allow her to soak this in and asked if she had any questions or feelings about this. And then I wanted the reassure that she is safe right now and that mommy and daddy will always protect her with every part of their body.

  4. Was this too much information for her- professionally, I would say, yes. She doesn’t need to understand the language around weapons or guns but she did overhear me say it and taking her temperament into account, I knew I had to be as honest (as age appropriateness allowed) as I could. I kept it short and concise and offered many pauses and check-ins. She continued to bring the topic up a few times for the remainder of the day (which is typical for her) and shows that she’s trying to process the information in the way she knows how. I answered every question with the same words as I used before and remained patient every time the same questions came up. I can expect her to continue to do so for a few days, however, if your child is having a hard time functioning (paying attention, sleeping, seeming irritable) two weeks or more after sharing the news, then it may be time to seek professional assistance on the matter.

  5. Make sure that every parent/guardian with the child shares the same narrative and language around the discussion so that everyone is on the same page. 

 

You can find Dr. Mary Goodarzi, child psychologist, on Instagram @marygoodarzia .

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