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How to Talk to Your Child About Scary Things in Uncertain Times

It is important to talk to your child about scary events, especially when we are in uncertain times. However, it can be extraordinarily difficult for parents.  We want to share our values regarding events. 

Likewise, it can be hard for children to talk to their parents. Sometimes, children ask questions that we are not prepared to answer.  Other times, they may struggle to open up at all. They receive both information and misinformation from peers.   

Here Are Some Tips That Can Make This Process Easier.

Take Time to Talk to Your Child

We need time as adults to understand sad or scary news.  Take time to wrap your head around it first before you can talk to your child.  You want to make sure your child has the information that he needs and hears it from you.  However, giving yourself time to adjust is important so that you can be calm when you talk to him.  Even taking a few minutes or a short walk can help you to feel more settled.  Talking it out with someone else first can be helpful as well.  Taking time to ask questions of your own will also be helpful for feeling more prepared and reassuring your child.

When You Talk to Your Child, Knowledge is Power

Try to Find Out What Your Child Already Knows

Asking open ended questions to your child can help you find out what she knows, what she wants to know, and any misinformation that has been picked up.  For example, you could ask, “What have you heard about things going on the world?”  

Think About the Developmental Level of Your Child

Knowing where your child is developmentally will allow you to gage what kind of information he or she needs.  For example, smaller children really just need to know that they are safe while a pre-teen may want to know more about what exactly is a happening and a teenager will want to know what could happen

It Is Okay to Say Something is Scary

Older children appreciate it when you admit when something is scary.  They have also lived with you long enough to know when something is off so you will want to tell the truth to preserve their trust in you.  You will want to adjust how you address children of different ages.  For example, if your 6-year-old child shared that they were scared by seeing cars in the ditch on a snowy day, you can respond by saying, “That was scary but I drove very slow to keep us safe.  Thank you for playing quietly so that I could focus on the road.”  When you are speaking to an older child about school shootings, you will want to admit if you worry about violence as well.  However, you will always want to bring up a positive strategy that you and whenever possible your child is taking because feeling like you can take action can lead to a sense of control and agency over a situation.  Feeling like you can do something and have control improves the ability of individuals to cope.

It Is Okay Not To Know Everything When You Talk to Your Child

You may not have answers to all your child’s questions.  There often aren’t answers to all our questions. That is okay.  For small children, you can just say, “I will tell you when I know more” or “We will find out.”  For older children, you can talk about how it is difficult to not know and that uncertainty is hard.  Reassure older children that you will share more information as you learn more.  

Reassure Your Child that You will Keep Him Safe

Explaining to your child that they are safe with you is important.  Young children will want to just know that they are safe.  Older children and teens will benefit from knowing what you are doing to keep them safe.

Let Your Child Know That They Can Ask Any Questions

It is hard to ask scary questions for children and adults.  Kids have an extra burden of struggling to be able to put their thoughts into words due to language, speech, and emotional development that hasn’t happened yet.  Let your kids know it is safe to ask questions and that ALL questions are appropriate.  Remind them that they won’t get in trouble for asking questions.  Share some questions that you have had that you were afraid to ask or sounded too silly to you.

Use Children’s Books

There are great picture and chapter books that can help you tackle difficult subjects with your children.  You can find a list of books that discuss divorce, grief, cancer, and other difficult subjects here.  

You Can Seek Help on How to Talk To Your Child if Needed

If your child continues to struggle to cope with a topic, you may want to take her to a child therapist to learn some ways to help your child use strategies to feel better.  Constant worry, withdrawing, difficulty falling asleep or nightmares, acting out, and loss of interest in activities may be signs that your child needs some extra help.  Hope Springs has qualified child therapists that can help children and their families learn coping strategies.  


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