By Tracey Dowdy
No matter how you try to shelter your kids from the news, when events like the violence in Charlottesville unfold, your children are bound to be impacted. Even if you’ve set boundaries for social media, other children may have seen and heard upsetting things and will likely share with their friends.
At times like this it’s important to take these troubling situations and turn them in to teachable moments. We can engage our children in meaningful conversations that both make them feel safe, and teach them how they can play a part it making the world a better place.
Start with a conversation. Family therapist Nicole Coghlin, with Bayridge Counseling Centres says, “It’s okay for you to start the conversation. Listen carefully to what your kids are saying – and what they’re not saying.” That’s an important distinction – sometimes children are hesitant to bring up sensitive subjects because they don’t want to upset their parents, so it’s important to reassure them and let them know they can talk to you about anything that’s making them afraid or uncomfortable.
Psychology Today had great advice for parents after the Ariana Grande concert attack in Manchester back in May. The circumstances are different, but both the Manchester and Charlottesville events impacted our kids and the principles surrounding dealing with the aftermath are the same.
Have that conversation but keep it age-appropriate. Younger children will likely be most concerned about their family and friends: Are they safe? Will they be okay? Older children will tend to ask more broad-based questions: Why do people think this way? What can we do? Be honest, and don’t pretend to have all the answers. This is a complex issue and pretending to have all the answers won’t change the situation.
As in this situation when race is at the center of the controversy, give your child context through a history lesson. Again, keep it age-appropriate, but explain that we made progress back during the Civil Rights era because people weren’t afraid to stand up for what they knew was right. Sometimes history repeats itself and we need to stand up for what’s right again. History for Kids has great resources to teach children about Civil Rights leaders, events like the March on Washington, and other important information. It isn’t limited to American history – there are profiles of Mother Theresa and Gandhi as well.
Keep an eye out for changes in behavior. Remember, it’s back-to-school, so many kids are already stressed. Having the fear Being fearful about what’s happening in the world around them can ramp up that anxiety.
Sometimes it helps to find an outlet. Many of us feel powerless in these situations, so find tangible ways to go out into the community to do good. Volunteer at a homeless shelter; make dinner or mow the grass for a shut-in; bake cookies and drop them off at the local fire station. Tangible acts of kindness demonstrate to your children that there is still good in the world.
Be patient and expect to have the conversation again. Some of my best conversations with my kids came as I was settling them in bed at night. Somehow, those wheels start turning and that’s a prime opportunity to talk through what’s on their mind.
Finally, if your child is really struggling and can’t seem to let go of the fear, consider talking to a professional. Sometimes having someone to talk to who isn’t part of their usual support system allows them to unpack their fears and move on. A therapist can provide the tools your child needs to not only work through these events but any future distress as well.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.