by Kristin Kuiper, LMSW, MSW
With all of the events in the news lately, and I’m specifically referring to the tragedy in Grand Rapids, Michigan last week, many parents are wondering how to respond to what is happening with their children. If you are a parent, perhaps you are glued to the television for the most up to date information and your child has heard bits and pieces of the story. Perhaps after playing with friends, your child comes home with questions or new fears are expresses because this tragedy hit so close to home. Maybe your anxiety has heightened and your child, however young, feels your worry.
It can be very difficult as a parent to know how to share with our children the sad realities of the world we live in. There is so much brokenness that we see on a regular basis. Our instincts to protect them kick in at times like this. But with the availability of media, social networking, and 24/7 news cycles, parents are often left with questions of what protecting our children actually looks like in our culture today.
There are a couple of tips that I want to encourage you to implement at home. Taking advantage of these recommendations will help your home and the relationships you have with your children be a safe place, a refuge, from everything that is going on around them.
- Keep routines intact—when challenges arise in the family or in the community, keep the home routines going to the greatest extent possible. By routines, I mean mealtimes, wakeup/bedtime rituals, family connection rituals, etc.
- Heighten your awareness of emotional and behavioral changes in your children—unlike adults, children don’t express fear and anxiety with words. However, you may notice more acting out, aggressive behavior or withdrawal, or even physical symptoms like stomach aches or low appetite and energy. Recognizing these changes will help you understand if your child might be struggling with what is going on around them.
- Simplify “screen time”- children, especially when young, are very concrete thinkers. This means that when children are exposed to things such as news programs, they are not able to recognize that the events shown are not happening over and over again, each time they are shown. They are not able to understand that where these events have occurred is not directly near them. Cutting down when and where the TV is on and filtering what images they see or read online is important.
- Nurture a low stress home- When children experience stress, they are less able to learn and trust, and connect with others (the hormone cortisol is to blame for this). Children absorb their parents’ emotions. So, taking care of yourself at times like this is critical—recognizing what you might be unintentionally passing along to your child will help you parent well.