Today, my heart is heavy. I woke up to the news of another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas. This is the country’s largest mass shooting according to some news sources. As I sit down today, I am reminded that our children also feel fear and stress and anxiety in these uncertain times. As adults, we can’t erase the violence in the world, but we can be our children’s guide through the uncertainty.
As a parent, you may wonder what to say to your child to help ease the pain and anxiety. While you may not always have the perfect script, it’s important that parents provide a pillar of security for children during times of tragedy.
Here are some tips to help mindfully help our children cope with tragedy and uncertainty in the world.
1. We must first and foremost be willing to talk with our children. “Talking to your children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them” according to the American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/aftermath.aspx). Allow children to share what they are feeling without interrupting or judging them. Provide love and concern for your children by providing empathy and hugs as they share about their worries with you.
2. Be mindful of media. Even when you feel children may not be listening, they often internalize news stories that they overhear on the television or radio. As a parent, consider taking a break from the news during times of tragedy when possible, especially when your children are within earshot. According to the American Academic of Pediatrics, “keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, radio, social media, computers, etc. With older children, if you do want them to watch the news, record it ahead of time. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its contents before you sit down with them to watch it. Then, as you watch it with them, you can stop, pause, and have a discussion when you need to” (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Talking-To-Children-About-Tragedies-and-Other-News-Events.aspx). Be available to help your children process through what they are hearing and seeing on the news.
3. Be a safe haven for your children. During times of uncertainty, children reach for safety and certainty. Mental Health America recommends that even during times of tragedy, children benefit most from maintaining their routines as much as possible (http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/children-cope-with-tragedy). Children need the stability of knowing what to expect next in their daily routine when dealing with frightening events in their lives.
4. Use mindfulness as a tool for self-care. As adults, it’s important to first take care of ourselves so we can provide support for our children. Consider incorporating practices such as yoga and meditation into your daily life to help with your own stress management. According to Ronald Alexander, Ph.D., “you too have the ability [to use mindfulness] to tap into your inner courage, move forward with your life and even reinvent yourself” (https://www.mindful.org/6-mindful-strategies-for-recovering-from-loss/). By using mindfulness, we can begin to model positive coping mechanisms for our children in the face of uncertain times.
In the words of Mister Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” As a parent, you too have the power to be a helper to our children, to help them make sense of this scary and uncertain world … to spread love in our families even in the face of frightening world events.
Sending love and safety your way today!