This past week, with the Uvalde school shooting, has been difficult. Given the context of the shooting in Buffalo not too long before and the SCOTUS leak about Roe V. Wade, there is so much worry in our world right now. If you are a parent, you are likely concerned about how to talk with your children about the school shooting.
Our Clinical Director here at The Sibley Group, Amanda Good, just shared a timely and important blog post on how to support yourself, which is THE KEY if you are also trying to support your child. In general, having a parent who is able to regulate their own emotions can serve as a model for helping your child regulate their own emotions. I once heard the local psychologist Dr. William Stixrud give a talk where he said, “The silver bullet for an emotionally overwhelming situation is an emotionally supportive other.” This is why it is important for us as parents to be sure we are taking care of ourselves so we can better take care of our children.
Secondly, before we get to coping skills, it is important we, as “emotionally supportive others [parents]”, attune to our children’s feelings. We need to connect to the emotional part of their brain before we can help them logically. To do this we need to listen to our children with feelings in mind. An easy way to do this is to label and reflect feelings back to your child. “I know it’s scary.”, “I can see you are sad.”, “It’s normal to feel angry.”, and so on. You can also help your children rate how big their emotions are, 1 – 5 for school aged children or 1 – 10 as they get older. Young children can choose “small”, “medium”, or “big” ratings for their feelings.
Next, you can help your child make a list of strategies to cope with their feelings. Help your child match strategies for big or small feelings, help them develop a strategy to cope with the feeling that fits the size or rating. Be collaborative in this moment as much as possible–your child may have some great ideas on what to do. And if they don’t have ideas, you can “wonder” about things that may work such as, “I wonder if you drew a picture about how you are feeling if that would help?” Like I said, in some cases they may have great ideas, in other cases they may not and rebuke your efforts, and in that case, move back to feelings and say something to the effect of, “This is hard isn’t it?”
Lastly, it does not do you or your child any good to have the news on more than needed, same for social media. When you do watch the news with your kids, tune into what they are seeing and help them translate what the reporting means. Be prepared to answer their questions with simple words. It is ok to say, “I don’t know” when your kids ask a question. You can make a list of all of their questions and decide which ones you might want to explore first, more, and how. And ultimately, saying “I don’t know” models that we do not have to have all the answers and it is ok to not know.
Look, this talk is HARD! You don’t have to have the right answers. Just try to host a conversation or give your child an experience that you are with them through this tragic news.
As parents, we can’t often explain senseless tragedies. Yet, we can show our children that pain seeks and needs comfort and connection. Sometimes that is the answer that most of us need during hard times.