Written by: Kari Kling, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
How do we talk with our children when frightening events, such as a war, are being revealed to all of us in real time? How can we find the words to comfort our children when we may feel terrified ourselves? How do we even begin to know what to say and what to do?
We may not be able to fix the situation at hand, but there are important parenting strategies that we can use to help our children process and cope with what may be happening.
In this article, I’m going to outline why it’s so important that we address this with our children and give you my top 3 strategies of how to do so.
It is always vital to keep the lines of communication open with our children as we attempt to minimize their fears. When children keep their fears and questions inside, they may become even more terrified because they don’t understand what is happening.
No matter our age, when we are faced with physical, mental or emotional stress, networks in our brains and bodies release stress hormones. Stress hormones impact our bodily systems which allow us to get ready to react to danger. Chronic stress may have negative effects and create other mental, emotional, or physical health problems.
It is important to be able to recognize if your child is feeling stress. My top 10 stress indicators in children include:
Loss of Appetite
Changes in Behavior
Yes, these symptoms may seem similar to what we feel as adult stress too. The significant difference is that most children are probably not able to articulate what they are feeling and why. Holding stress in our bodies and not being able to talk about it will only make things worse.
Here are my top 3 parenting strategies to implement during stressful times, whether your children are seeing images of war on their screens or other possible disturbing images, that may be encountered:
1. Turn off the TV ‒ Even if you’re watching something other than the news, an unexpected ‘breaking news’ story may appear showing images that may be inappropriate for children. Other times, we may leave the TV on and walk away, not realizing what may be revealed on the screen. Either way, it is very important to minimize the negative images that our children are seeing. Continual exposure to violent and hurtful images aren’t good for any of us.
2. Limit violent video games ‒ When children, and it seems that it’s mostly boys who may enjoy playing these games, blow things up and kill for entertainment, it desensitizes them. The killing and destruction in some of these games are billed as entertainment. These games can become addictive and power struggles to get your child to stop or limit time playing them may ensue. But when bombs are going off and people are being killed in the real world, I believe it’s time to think seriously about the ‘entertainment’ that our kids may be participating in.
3. Engage in conversation ‒ How do we even begin to have a conversation like this? So many times, we ask our kids, “Are you okay?” or “What are you thinking about such and such?” We may get answers like, “Fine,” “Ok,” “Yeah,” or “No.”
During the summer riots of 2020, our family found ourselves in a situation where rioting was occurring at a mall literally two blocks from our home. We could hear the helicopters overhead and the police sirens for hours. What we watched on our TV screens was happening just a hop, skip and a jump away. It was petrifying.
As I sat and thought about what was transpiring, I wondered what other parents were thinking and how they were dealing with these tough situations with their children? None of us go into parenthood knowing how to deal with every situation and this one was extremely harrowing, even for adults.
In efforts to provide a parenting tool for situations like this, I wrote an ebook, “Conversation Starters To Help Children Through Stressful Times.” My goal in doing so was to provide quick and easy parenting strategies to encourage purposeful dialogue, while guiding children to recognize, manage and reduce their own stress.
“Conversation Starters To Help Children Through Stressful Times” is a short, ten-page ebook that gives multiple examples of how to open communication about troubling circumstances and is categorized into three age groups:
Below, I have provided one example of a ‘conversation starter’ for each age group for you:
Toddlers-Kindergarten ‒ Use puppets to allow for conversation. Young children are more likely to ‘talk as a puppet and to a puppet’ about their feelings rather than another person. Use your puppet to ask questions about what your child may be seeing on TV or what they might feel stressed about. Encourage expression by using phrases such as, “Tell me more…” or “I have felt like that too.”
Elementary School ‒ Provide paper, crayons/colored pencils to draw a picture of what your child may have seen or what they may be feeling stressed about. Draw your own picture too. Then, talk about your drawings and ask each other questions about how the picture makes you feel and to describe them. Children may draw what they are thinking or feeling in more detail than they are willing or capable to just talk about.
Middle School-High School ‒ Many times, children in these age groups may write things that they may never say out loud. Provide a journal for your child to have a place to write their thoughts, observations and feelings. The journal could be private or interactive with a parent or a trusted friend.
It is my hope that you find these examples to be beneficial with the children in your life. The key point here is to keep asking questions, encourage your child to ask questions, and to keep the lines of communication open. If you would like a complimentary copy of my ebook, "Conversation Starters To Help Children Through Stressful Times," simply send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to send a copy to you.
As parents, we aren’t always going to be able to protect our children from what may be happening in the world and what they see, but we can gain a better understanding of how to recognize when our children are feeling stress and what we can do to help them.
To quote Mister Fred Rogers, creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
Kari Kling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Kari Kling, M.Ed., Parent Coach
Kari’s 40 years of experience as an internationally recognized educator, counselor, parent coach, and author/speaker has given her the expertise to guide thousands of parents to reach their parenting goals. Kari’s solid understanding of how we behave and learn is grounded in neuroscience.
Kari is a sought after keynote and featured speaker for national and international conferences. She loves to meet and work with parents and their families in her home state of Arizona, nationally and globally.
Kari states that her most powerful learning experience about parenting has been being the mom to her 20-year-old twin boys, as they have been her greatest teachers.
You can email Kari to learn more about her parent coaching services at: email@example.com
or check out her website and social media.