10 minute read
Most of us had the privilege of saying good morning to our babies today while some will never get to again. If you’re sending your kids off to school with a heaviness in your heart, you’re not alone. If you’re terrified looking at your little ones, afraid of sending them to a place where you should be able to rest assured they are safe, you’re not alone.
Do Not Fear
We shouldn’t have to fear that we may not see our children again when they leave for school. It shouldn’t be this way and it’s absolutely nauseating.
There are so many topics and world events we wish we could shelter our kids from. They’re too young. They shouldn’t have to know yet. It’s all too sad and scary. I don’t know what to say. All those thoughts are valid, but kids will find out anyway and you’re the one they want to hear from most.
They’ll find out and they’ll feel scared, sad, confused, and alone if they feel like they can’t talk to you. It feels worse for kids when they feel left alone with something scary or confusing they heard elsewhere (and they will always hear elsewhere).
Don’t Forget To Talk
Filling in the gaps themselves is lonelier and scarier than hearing you talk about it.
At home, minimize media exposure and maximize open communication. Rather than simply telling them they can talk to you about anything, show them. Actions speak so much louder than vague invitations. Be the one to start the conversation.
A Framework for parents
You won’t have all the answers and the magnitude of your feelings may feel overwhelming. That’s okay because you’re human and it’s your job to always be human. Let your child see you be open and accepting of all feelings even when it’s uncomfortable. That’s how they’ll know it’s okay to feel what they feel too.
Don’t worry about saying the right thing. There isn’t one right thing to say. And don’t worry about saying a lot. Keep it short and stick to the facts. Correct anything they heard that wasn’t accurate.
Remember To Listen
But even more importantly, listen. Listen to what kids have to say, to their questions, thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
For very young kids, manage what they see and monitor your own feelings when you’re around them. They should see you appropriately label how you’re feeling, but they don’t need to see big displays of emotion. Always acknowledge a feeling they saw you or someone else express. Be a model being accepting of feelings and practice calming techniques through difficult times.
They Will Feel Your Energy
Even our littlest ones will pick up on your energy and mirror it.
Remember that children are not meant to hold your feelings for you. That’s what other adults are for. You are the one who is meant to hold everything your children feel.
Scripts for talking with kids
Keep your conversation appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level but keep it truthful. You can show emotion and strength at the same time. You can feel vulnerable and tolerate the discomfort.
Young kids may find comfort in hearing something like: Yes, I was sad. Yes, I was mad. Something bad happened and I’m sad for other mommies, daddies, and babies. You saw me cry. That’s okay. We all feel big feelings sometimes. I’ll take a few deep breaths and take a little alone time, and I’ll feel better soon.
Older kids may appreciate a deeper conversation: Something very serious happened. It may make you feel big feelings. I feel them too. I want you to hear it from me and you can ask me any questions. I’m right here with you and we’ll get through this together.
You may have already heard about something bad that happened. These are the facts that I know. There’s a lot I don’t know yet too. What questions do you have? If I don’t know the answer, we’ll try to figure it out together.
What feelings does this bring up for you? That’s understandable. I feel that way too. When I feel sad, angry, frustrated, or confused, it helps me to slow down, take deep breaths, take a walk outside, do some exercise, write in my journal, take a bath, etc. Let’s brainstorm some ways you might feel better. What ideas do you have?
The world is not all bad. There are more people doing good than bad. There are always people helping and looking for more ways to help. Even we can do something to help. Can you think of ways we might help?
Whether it’s donating to an organization like Everytown, raising awareness, or doing a small act of kindness for people in your community – it’s all a big deal. Even the “smallest” act is big to the giver and to the recipient.
Your actions are important and they matter.
What To Watch Out For
Children who witness or are overly exposed to traumatic events (like from the news) may replay the event over and over in their mind, experience nightmares, seem less happy, talkative, or playful, act out the event through their play, and be worried about something bad happening to them or their family. Parents may notice that some kids become less willing to separate from them or may even refuse to go to school after being exposed to or learning of tragedies. If you’re noticing a change in your child or finding it hard to regain a sense of normalcy yourself, contact a mental healthcare professional licensed in your area for support.
What Else You Can Do
Five additional tips from a psychologist and mom to help you get through difficult times:
- Recovery after a major event is a process and it looks different for everyone. Give yourself time to recover. Don’t be hard on yourself if you continue to carry the heaviness of a tragedy. Show yourself patience, kindness, and compassion. Ask for support from your people and offer yours to others. It’s always more comforting to share, hear, and be heard.
- Don’t minimize feelings. That applies to your own, your children, and those around you. Connect by validating all feelings as part of the recovery process. The feeling is part of being human – be open to it, even the tough feelings.
- Model healthy behaviors and coping skills for kids. Little eyes are always watching, and little ears are always listening. They need to know that an adult is in charge and that they are safe with you.
- Be mindful of triggers. We can become sensitive to reminders of emotional events, even when we aren’t aware that our brains are making a connection. For example, you may experience heightened emotions around specific dates or seasons that are tied with major events. It happens to kids too. So, if you or your child are feeling particularly on edge, worried, or extra cranky, take a step back and see if you might be feeling triggered by a connection to an emotional time.
- Be the consistent, predictable nurturer your child needs. Kids crave stability, regular routines, and a tender heart to connect with them emotionally.
The Bottom line
When you open the lines for honest communication and emotional availability with your kids, their biggest takeaway will be that their thoughts and feelings are safe with you, and they can come to you for anything. They will know you’re also a person who shares their same feelings and you can hold their emotions, thoughts, and questions, and connect with them deeply.
Dr. Ellen Kolomeyer is a clinical psychologist with expertise in pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting infants, toddlers, and young children. Dr. Kolomeyer is based in Plantation, FL and provides consultations to clients throughout Florida.