Supporting Kids in Difficult Times
January 7, 2021
When something troubling, unexpected, or scary happens in the world, we all try to make sense of what’s happening--kids, too. Even when kids are not directly affected by an event in the news, they still see and hear pieces of what is going on. These snippets of information, whether from seeing images on television or online or from hearing news reports or people talking about the news, leave kids with complicated, and often frightening and confused feelings. The adults in their lives can be a source of caring support and information in difficult times.
If you are in a home, classroom, or other space with kids, now is a good time to talk to them about what is happening and to see how they are feeling--even if they haven’t asked you any questions. My colleague Angela, our youth and family programs coordinator, and I wanted to share some helpful resources with you to help you support the children you care about:
First, reassure kids that they are safe and cared for, and that you are there to make sure they stay safe. Be clear that you are there for them.
Second, acknowledge and validate their feelings. There is no “right way” to feel in a difficult or distressing situation, and kids need caring adults to reassure them that what they are feeling is okay. You can also help them to process their feelings.
Third, be open and honest and explain what is happening in the news in a way that is appropriate for the age and emotional state of each child. Ask what questions they have, and answer their questions the best you can. As you explain what is happening, more complicated feelings may come up. If so, you can again assure them that you care for them and validate their feelings. Make sure to let them know they can come to you with questions at any time. If they ask a question you don’t know the answer to, be honest and offer to learn the answer together. During difficult and scary situations, it is a good idea to make sure you’re with your children when they are consuming the news so you can process the information together, answer questions as they arise, and steer your children toward credible information sources. If a child is having an extreme response to the news, pause the conversation, reassure the child they are safe and cared for, and come back to the topic later.
It’s important to recognize that adults also need space and support to process difficult and distressing news, even when they are responsible for kids. Remember the safety guidance on an airplane: put on your own oxygen mask first. This Forbes article provides tips for protecting your own mental health as you consume and process the news. When you are in a good mental space, you are better able to support others. Here are a few more resources to explore so you can best support the kids in your life:
- The TIME for Kids Guide to Talking about Tough Topics from TIME for Kids
- When Bad Things Happen from Teaching Tolerance
- Resources for Teachers on the Days after the Attack on the U.S. Capitol by Alyssa Hadley-Dunn, Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University
- Tips for Leading a Discussion with Grieving Students (PDF) from The Sharing Place