School shootings. Climate change. Poverty. Immigration issues. With all the chaos in the world, how do you explain it to kids when they come to you for answers?!
As parents, mentors and caregivers, kids look to us for answers. We would love to keep them in a bubble, protected from the negativity in the world. However, that is not preparing them for a life independent from you. It’s very important to explain to kids what is going on around them. After all, they’re the ones that will live on long after we’re gone.
But how do you begin to talk to your kids about the chaos in the world? Here are three suggestions to get the discussion started.
Actually talk to them about it. Especially if they’re bringing it up.
Many parents try to “protect” their kids by avoiding these uncomfortable conversations. But ignoring it is the worse thing to do because they’ll seek answers elsewhere.
Just because your child is home most of the time, does not mean that they don’t know what is going on in the world. Honestly, they’re probably more informed than us since they’re constantly connected to the world online. If you don’t address some of their concerns, they’ll most likely turn to Google or YouTube for answers, where you have no control.
I find that car rides are one of the best places to talk to your kids since there’s no direct eye contact, and they can’t go anywhere. Another good time is during walks.
You can start the conversation by asking “hey, did you hear about…. what do you think about that? Be curious about their point of view without judging.
How you explain things could make them either become more anxious, or feel secure. If you’re not sure how to answer a question, tell them that you don’t know and together you can do research.
Prepare them in case of an emergency.
Sadly, school shootings have become common in the United States. It’s important to have a plan in place as a family in case of a school shooting. Schools now have safety plans. But as a family, you should have a plan too. For example, I have told my teenaged son to keep his cell phone turned off but in his backpack, which he always has with him in school, not in his locker.
It’s also important to have an emergency plan in case you’re in a public place when something happens. Ready.gov is a website that helps you create a family plan.
It’s important to stress the importance of safety with your kids. You don’t want to be paranoid, but you want to be prepared. It’s like insurance. Hopefully you never have to use it, but you’ll be glad to have it when you need it.
Some parents have enrolled themselves and their kids in self-defense classes, in shooting ranges to learn how to safely handle a gun, and outdoor survival skills. Do what feels right for your family. The point is to be informed and prepared.
Have time to unplug.
Today’s kids were born into this technology. They don’t know a world without it. So it’s only natural that they’re going to want to always be on their phone or gaming system where they can play with friends without needing to leave home. Technology has it’s advantages, but it could also be scary as kids could seek out ANY information without you knowing.
It is our job as parents, ants/uncles and caretakers to provide breaks from technology. It could be as a simple house rules that NO ONE goes on their cell phones during dinner, for example. Or doing activities together that will keep kids busy. I hear from teens all the time that the main reason they are on their phone or other electronics is because they’re bored. Schedule time to take the food you cooked and eat it at a park, or have a movie night, or ask for their help with household projects.
Unplugging from the constant information that’s online is not only good for their mental health, but it’s an opportunity to connect with your kids.
I also recommend that you read your news instead of watching it on television where it’s repeated and has graphic visuals. If you’re constantly watching negative stories everyday, you can unconsciously pass on your anxieties to your kids. Unplugging from TV news is just as important as unplugging from the internet.
Remember, you are the adult in the relationship and kids are looking to you for guidance. Although you can’t control what’s online and what’s going on in the world, you can control what values and education you want to instill in your kids. Talking to your kids and providing reassurance helps them feel more secure in a chaotic world.
About the Author
Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents, adults and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA.