The horror of the Parkland High School shooting continues to linger, and maybe even magnify, as we try to find a way to cope with the heightened worry of sending our children to school each day. In the foreground are threats to our local schools causing alerts and even lock downs from Manatee to Sarasota county. How do we help our children feel safe when bad things happen? How do we talk with them about school safety so that they are able to do the work of children – learn and grow?
Weiss Pediatric Care is delighted to feature a guest blog from the Counseling and Academic Services Department at Out-of-Door Academy that provides parents with a context and even the words for talking to kids about this tough subject.
FROM THE OUT-OF-DOOR ACADEMY COUNSELING AND ACADEMIC SERVICES DEPARTMENT…
If It’s Mentionable, It’s Manageable
Whether our kids are ready to have the conversation right away or not, creating space for it in your family’s routine is crucial. This can be during car rides or just ten minutes before bed. The key to making these moments meaningful is focusing on open-ended questions. Questions like “How are you feeling about all this?” and “What do you think about what’s been happening in the news?” act as jumping-off points to deeper, more authentic communication. Yes/No questions that begin with “Are you…” or “Do you…” (i.e.”Are you sad?” or “Do you worry this could happen to you?”) can lead the conversation. Statements like “You must be so worried about this!” can send the message that the conversation is more for you than it is for them.
Follow Their Lead
Your child may not seem to be affected by the event or they may flat out deny it. That’s okay! Everybody processes things differently. The important thing is to acknowledge their feelings without shutting down the possibility for future conversation. Following their lead also means that when the conversation does happen, it’s important to pay attention to signs that your child has gotten what she or he needs. Stopping the conversation when you notice your kids start to fidget or glaze over sends the very clear message that you are paying attention to their cues. Responding to your child’s non-verbal communication makes them more likely to open up when they are ready because they feel safe knowing that you are interested in and considerate of their needs.
There is a moment when the runner slides across the plate just as the catcher snatches the ball out of the air where the crowd holds its breath. It’s only after they hear the umpire shout “Safe!” that everyone can exhale. For your kids, home is their base. With teenagers and preteens it can be important to provide some space for them to be alone and quiet, while still making sure to schedule some obligatory family time (which works best with a shared activity like playing a game or watching a movie.) By following your child’s lead, having a consistent routine, and setting clear limits, home becomes a place where the whole family can process and recharge.
No News Is (Sometimes) Good News
This may be the toughest one, but it boils down to a pretty simple concept: turn off the news. With the amount of information we now have access to, parents have the added burden of modeling how to thoughtfully manage both the intake of, and response to, what we see, hear, or read. The first step is to put limits on how often news is on (actively or passively) when the family is together. The looping, graphic images on TV are the most impactful and hardest to process for kids, so making a point of turning it off can be helpful right away. Limiting how frequently we check news on our phones is also very important. Research shows that our kids are more aware of our tech habits than we think. Making the effort to reduce checking devices sends at least two messages: news is only valuable when it is used to inform, not entertain, and we have to control our technology or it will control us.
With advances in our connectivity as a society, protecting kids from exposure to frightening or upsetting events has become increasingly difficult. Almost every child with access to a smart phone or device only has to swipe the screen far enough to be automatically confronted by the most up-to-date news notifications. Even social media, which used to be primarily interpersonal, has become a major carrier of news and current events. Kids may not know how they feel about having all of this information — they’ve never known anything else. By working together, we can help support and guide our kids towards meeting one of the central challenges of their generation: becoming healthy consumers and processors of information.