Mom Advice

How to Talk to Your Kids About Tragic Events

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In the wake of last week’s horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, this article on how to talk to your kids about a tragic event in the news is brought to you by CHOC Children’s

When tragic events happen in the news it is sometimes hard to know how to handle conversations about it with our children. How much information should we give? How do we answer specific questions? How does this vary with a child’s age?

Which is why I was so grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Nicole Vincent, PhD, a licensed psychologist at CHOC Children’s to get her advice to share with you today. 

 5 Key Things to Remember When Talking to Your Kids About a Tragic Event in the News

My very first question I had for her was,

“Is it better to bring up the event with your child at home first OR wait and see if they hear something from a friend or at school before discussing it?” 

1. Be Mindful of the Child’s Age

Dr. Vincent expressed how we talk to our kids about tragic events in the news will vary depending on the age of the child.

For preschoolers through about 1st grade, the chance a child would be exposed to information in the news is not as likely as it is for older children. So for young ones, a parent might consider not bringing up the event unless the child specifically asks about something they heard.  

For older elementary schoolers she suggested it might be a good idea to touch base with your child’s teacher or administrators to ask if the event has been brought up in class or if it is being talked about? Depending on the answer, this might cue you in to whether you might want to address it with your child at home. 

As kids become middle and high school age, it is very likely, especially with technology and social media exposure, to hear about tragic events and get information outside of the home. For these ages, Dr. Vincent said it is usually a good idea to take a proactive approach and start the conversation at home so you can discuss the facts and give them the opportunity to ask questions. 

Which led to my next question, how do you approach the topic about a tragic news event with your kids?

2. Consider Starting the Conversation With These Questions

The best way to start the conversation is to ask your child open-ended questions like “Have you talked about events in the news?” If yes,What have you heard about it? Tell me what you know.” 

The answers will help guide the conversation as to how much information to share.

For younger age groups, it is best to keep your responses honest and factual, but brief. Details are not totally necessary and often times these responses will be enough to satisfy their curiosity.

For older age groups, she advised to let your child take the lead with information they heard or questions they might ask. It is important to validate their concerns by letting them know they are asking great questions. It’s okay to not always have the answers, you can tell them as much, and empathize with also wanting to also know.  Being there to listen to your child is the most important. 

But regardless of age, she stressed you know your child the best and to pay attention to behavior and cues that might indicate they heard something or have questions. Even young children can pick up on information or overhear things that might surprise you.

Bottom line, take the above age suggestions as general guidelines. But again, you know your child the best.

For me personally, I was surprised my 8-year-old daughter had many more questions and wanted to talk about Las Vegas much more than my 11-year-old daughter. It also elicited more fear in her than her sister. For kids who seem to be experiencing an increase in fear as a result, I asked for suggestions on how to help.

3. Reinforce the Rarity of the Event

Tragic events often trigger fear and anxiety in people of all ages, and for children tragic events can be especially scary

Dr. Vincent suggested this could be a time to highlight the fact that a shooting like the one that occurred in Las Vegas is a rare event. And when rare tragic events happen there are many people that will work together to try to avoid it from happening in the future.

4. Teach Kids to Look for the Helpers

In times like this, I often see people quoting Mister Rodgers when he said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Dr. Vincent mentioned it is very helpful to highlight for your children the people that step up to help in crisis.  Teach them to look at the first responders, volunteers, or strangers helping strangers. These people show us the beauty of humanity in a crisis. 

For some kids, she suggested even possibly talking about what you can do to help as a family. Even a small act like choosing a Go Fund Me account to donate to, writing a letter to a first responder, or looking up supplies to donate can help by showing there are always things people can do to help. 

5. Keep Home Life as Normal as Possible 

One last parting piece of advice was to keep your routine at home as normal as possible.  When a child’s day to day routine is altered for whatever reason, it can cause additional anxiety to build. 

On this note, Dr. Vincent also stressed how important it is to allow yourself the time to process the events. Whether it’s talking to your partner, friends or therapist, it is important to be mindful of your own self-care so you are in the right state of mind to discuss it with your child. 

When To Seek Help

After a tragic event, it is not uncommon to experience a variety of emotions or symptoms like mood changes, difficulty with sleep, or increased headaches or stomachaches. If any of these changes persist in you or your child for more than a couple weeks, and if the symptoms are disrupting daily life, it might be a good idea to pursue help by a mental health professional. 

Get more tips from CHOC experts

For more information about CHOC Children’s and their mental health services visit www.choc.org/services/mental-health

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Don’t Do It

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How to Not Overcommit Yourself

Ladies, the start of the school year is upon us and that means lots of sign ups and volunteer sheets and new jobs to be done at school. This post is on how to not overcommit yourself because it’s oh so easy to do.

This time of year, I usually feel pretty hyped up.  I am fresh and haven’t experienced lunches, homework or projects for 3 whole months.

But sometimes this gung-ho energy can get me into trouble. What kind of trouble? The saying “yes” to every volunteer opportunity trouble. Like even just this morning I was sent sign-up sheets to volunteer and I immediately thought because I was sent the sheet, I am obligated to sign up.  But not necessarily.

Volunteering is an amazing gift if you have time available to dedicate to it.  I love to volunteer. I love to be around school. I love to help.

I don’t love being overcommitted and stressed out. Especially at the sake of my sanity or time with my family.

So, at the start of the school year, look at your schedule and obligations before jumping to “yes!”

How to Not Overcommit Yourself 

This post on Momastery was one of the most powerful posts I have ever read. Take a few minutes to read it. It’s not just about tweens, it applies to kids of all ages (and their moms)!

Her opening struck a chord in me because I am a people-pleaser and always want to say “yes” when asked to do something. But it’s never a good idea to jump to “yes” off the bat when asked unless it is a “hell yes, no question, I can totally do that and I WANT to do that” yes.

But lots of times it’s not.

So, when asked to do something, you got to practice your responses in advance because a lot of times you will be put on the spot. Come up with your responses now, then practice them.

If it’s a “hell no” you can say…

“Thanks so much for thinking of me! I would love to be able to, but I am…… (blah blah blah), and I am afraid I have too much on my plate to take on anything extra.”  Or truly you can just say, ” I have a lot going on this year and I am sorry I can’t swing it.” 

If it’s a “I’m not sure” you can say…

“Thanks so much for thinking of me! I have a lot on my plate right now, but let me think about whether I could fit it in, and I will get back to you.”

At least this buys you time to think through your obligations and if you are able to do it or not.

Come up with your responses now and practice them mamas.

You will be VERY glad you did.

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What We Can Learn from the Maddy Middleton Tragedy

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Last month 8-year-old girl Maddy Middleton was abducted, raped and murdered in her Santa Cruz apartment complex. The perpetrator was not a stranger and this was not a random abduction.  The killer was a 15-year-old boy who lived in her building who lured her to his apartment. Her tragic story shook me to the core. As a parent, I can’t even fathom the pain.

I wanted to share this insightful article posted on the Facebook page of Orange County clinical psychologist, Dr. Jerry Weichman, on how to talk to our kids when stories like this are covered in the media along with other important reminders about how to keep your child safe.  The “Staying Put” lesson is so important. His article was so enlightening to me I asked if I could share in this post. Please comment below with any comments or questions.

Keeping Your Child Safe – Tips & Insight || by Dr. Jerry Weichman

maddy middleton I have fielded some requests this week from parents asking how to discuss with younger kids tragic events that end up getting a lot of media coverage. Specifically last month the tragic abduction and death of 8 year old Maddy Middleton in Santa Cruz was one that struck a chord with many parents.

First, I think we need to be mindful of where the balance is in this discussion with our kids to ensure that they’re safe but also not to create an anxiety-ridden child or teenager with agoraphobia.

I would go so far as to say that I would not recommend bringing the incident up with your children nor sharing the details unless your child actually asks you about it.

If your child does bring up an event that they have heard about, parents need to consider the child’s maturity level, emotional capacity, and need to listen to your child’s specific questions before giving information.

Oftentimes, parents volunteer more details than a child is actually seeking. In the end, kids usually are seeking simple facts and reassurance that they are safe.

However, if these stories serve more as a wake-up call to parents about talking with their kids about safety in general, here are my tips:

Staying Put

Regardless of whether or not your child could potentially be lured by someone they know, such as was the case with Maddy, or by a complete stranger, the first issue at hand is a child leaving the location when they were supposed to be staying put. This is what you need to be focusing on and continually reiterating to your kids. Bottom line, the message needs to be, “You do not ever leave where you are supposed to be without talking with Mom/Dad first and asking for my permission to do so.”

Stranger Danger

Your kids are naturally going to be much more wary of a stranger because most parents talk about stranger danger but it is the people whom they do know who are the “sleepers.” That’s to say, the predators who that pose the biggest problems to our kids are the familiar faces because they seem trustworthy simply because your child knows them. This is why parents need to also discuss behaviors such as people they know (adults and kids) asking your child to keep a secret.

How to Discuss The Rules

The conversation about not departing the area where they should be without first asking parental permission should be short in duration (30 seconds max) but repeated at least every other week with them to help convert it to long-term memory. Now, just because your child has heard this rule over and over know this doesn’t mean that when it actually happens they’ll remember. I recommend once you’ve had multiple conversations with your child about this putting them to the actual test to see if they truly do get it. Call a neighbor or friend and have them come to your child (whether in front of the house, at a park, etc) and ask them if they want to come over right now to do something your kid really likes to do. Don’t admonish or “bust” your child if they make the wrong decision with this test. You don’t want your kid to feel tricked by you. Instead just know you have your answer about how truly safe your kid is with regards to staying put versus going somewhere without permission. Simply make a bigger point of discussing the rules with them.

Trust Your Gut

Lastly always trust your parental intuition, especially you moms out there. I’ve never seen a mother’s intuition be wrong in 17 years of working with teens and parents. Listen to your gut, to that feeling and to that thought in your head. If you experience an odd feeling about any individual, have a side conversation with your child that being alone around that individual or being in their home is off limits. If they ask why, just tell them that there’s adult information that you can’t share with them and your job as a parent is to keep them “out of trouble.” Do not tell your kid that the individual is “bad” or that your job as a parent is to keep them “safe.” These are trigger words and you run the risk of your child (depending on the age of your kid) telling the other person’s child that their home isn’t safe and now you have a different issue to deal with in your community.

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Not Scary Movies for Kids

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Not Scary Movies for Kids 

20 Not Scary Movies for Kids

(Links in post are Amazon Affiliate Links)

Last week I went out to dinner with five of my class of ’92 high school girlfriends I hadn’t seen in years.  Old photos were passed around and we laughed our you know whats off at the styles back then. I think the shoes were the most offensive – does anyone remember Reebok high tops with big scrunch socks?!  How on earth was that ever considered cute? Wow.

We had four hours to catch up and many parenting topics arose, which gives me endless parenting blog fodder. I love it.

This post was inspired when a friend mentioned her kids are so sensitive to “scary” stuff, that she has been forced over the years to find not scary movies for kids her family could watch together.

Of course, what scares a kid can differ from child to child, so these movies listed below are not necessarily scare-proof. However, a great way to check out the details on a movie before you watch it with your kids is www.commonsensemedia.org. The age recommendations for the movies below were taken from that site.

You simply plug in the movie and you can get the full rundown of the story line and ratings on things such as educational value, positive messaging, violence & scariness, and more.

Please add any not scary movies for kids you have discovered in the comments. Would love to keep this list going!

20 Not Scary Movies for Kids 

1. Winnie the Pooh Movies (ages 3+)

2. The Aristocats (ages 4+)

3. Tinker Bell (ages 4+)

4. Sesame Street: Follow That Bird (ages 4+)

5. My Neighbor Totoro (ages 5+)

6. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (ages 5+)

7. The Sword in the Stone (ages 5+)

8. The Mouse and the Motorcycle (ages 5+)

9. Kiki’s Delivery Service (ages 5+)

10. Homeward Bound (ages 6+)

My friend’s recommendations (geared towards older children):

11. Mary Poppins (ages 6 +)

12. The Sound of Music (ages 6 +)

13. Shirley Temple movies (Curly Top, The Little Princess, Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm were her favorites – ages 6+)

14. The Parent Trap (original version – ages 6+)

15. Charlotte’s Web (1973 older cartoon version – ages 5 +)

16. Doctor Doolittle (original version – ages 5+)

17. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (ages 6+)

18. Oklahoma (ages 8 +)

19. Singin’ in the Rain (ages 6+)

20. American Girl Movies (average age 6+ but check each movie individually for age rec)

Please add to this list in the comments with your “not scary movies for kids” recommendations…

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Helping Kids Prepare for a New Sibling

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Helping Kids Prepare for a New Sibling

The Pregnancy Diaries

There is nothing like welcoming a new baby into your family.  A sweet little angel that will bless you beyond belief…and change everything!  And, it can be an exciting, happy, thrilling, confusing and scary time for new big brothers and sisters.  Today, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite tips for helping kids prepare for a new sibling.

Involve them in the pregnancy

Explain how it’s going to work.  And no, I don’t necessarily mean “the birds and the bees” talk or “how the baby is going to get out” talk (unless you’re ready for that!).  What I mean is a high-level, big picture explanation of what’s going on with mommy…and depending on your child’s age, will depend on how much detail you choose to share.  When you decide to talk to your older kids is also a consideration – whether you choose to tell them early on or once you start showing more.

With my seven and five-year-old, we waited until after we had our first ultrasound and saw (and heard!) that amazing flutter of a heartbeat.  And we told them on Christmas morning – their last Christmas present that they “opened.”  Once the excitement, jumping up and down, and squealing simmered, I explained that the new baby was growing in mama’s belly.  The baby’s job was to grow a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger everyday, and that it was my job…our job…to help him or her. I went on to say that mom’s belly was going to get a little bigger everyday (which they thought was hilarious), and that there was going to be some things that I wouldn’t be able to do anymore…and would need their help, because they are were so big and strong and smart.  They felt very important.

And thus began our family “pregnancy project.”  I was no longer pregnant – “we” were pregnant.  And they felt like they had a part in helping their new sibling from the beginning.

Let them help

Speaking of letting them help, I think this is absolutely essential in having your big kids feel a part of the pregnancy and their new sibling.  The sooner they feel like they have an important part, the sooner they are more likely to be onboard.

We talk about our Baby Emma quite often, and have since we told the kids we were pregnant.  I am constantly referring to them as “big sister” and “big brother.”  I don’t just say how I’ll need their help once the baby comes, I tell them I need their help now. Because kids are all about the here and now and instant gratification.  “When the baby comes” seems like a lifetime to them.  So I say, involve the older siblings now!  Here are some of the ways I ask my bigs to help me and baby girl:

– Every time they help you pick up something that you can’t reach, get you a snack, pick up their room, do their chores/tasks without complaint or asking, etc., praise them.  “THANK you for helping mom and baby!  I really appreciate you helping us.  What an awesome big sister/brother you are – you’re already helping the baby!”  Verbal praise goes a long way with my kids.

– Nesting?  Let them help.  Of course, depending on the age of your older sibling(s) will depend on what’s reasonable and doable.  Mine are a bit older, so I let them help me go through baby boxes unearthed in the garage, and tell them funny or cute baby stories about when they were itty bitty.  And how Baby Emma will love their ________ (whatever we are unpacking).

– Speaking of dragging all of the baby clothes and bins out from the garage, if your child is of appropriate age where they will understand, I recommend that you make a really big deal out of how much they are helping the baby by letting him/her use their old baby stuff.

– Take them shopping with you, and let them pick out something special for the baby.  I don’t mean take them on every shopping trip.  But schedule something where they can be part of it.  Talk about what the baby will need.

– Let them help you set-up items where the baby will be.  Give them an opportunity to fold clothes, put wall decals on the wall, organize baby toys, etc.

– If they are older, like my Elizabeth, ask them to help you make to-do lists.  Elizabeth LOVES helping me organize and making lists to prepare for Baby Emma.  Take a look at her latest below – love it, and I’m saving this one!

Preparing for a New Sibling_2

Let them bond

Here’s how I started encouraging the baby bonding with my two bigs – every time I would feel a flutter or kick (even before anyone else could feel it), I would say “Oh my goodness, baby is kicking mama!  That means she hears your voice and is trying to get to you!”

I constantly say to both kids, “You two are going to be Baby Emma’s favorite people in the whole world.  You’re going to teach her everything and be her best friends and protectors!”  Now that she visibly kicks through my shirt, I’ll say, “Baby girl wants to play patty cake with you!” Or, “Baby girl wants a hug from you!”  This is a super easy way to make a new big brother and/or sister feel special.

From the beginning, I’ve asked each child to read her a book or sing her a song each night.  This has become part of our bedtime routine. They love “teaching” her new songs.  Elizabeth is convinced that she will come out knowing her “ABCs” because she sings it to her every night. Nathan is constantly kissing my belly and getting right up to my belly button (which he thinks is a microphone) and tells her stories. Let them talk to the baby…and see how easy the bonding comes.

I’ve also started talking about how we will correctly hold the baby, burp the baby, snuggle the baby, etc.  We get dolls out and each kid practices holding a “baby.” Here’s Nathan working on supporting the head.

Preparing for a Sibling_1

If you’re up for it, let them come to a doctor’s appointment with you, where the can hear the heartbeat on the doppler.  The first time I let Elizabeth hear at the appointment, it was magical to see her eyes lit up – “MOM!  She’s REALLY in there!!”

If it’s not feasible for them to accompany you to the doctor, take an audio recording of the heartbeat with your phone, and share it with them at home!

Welcome “birthday” party

Who doesn’t love a party?  Especially little kids (and big kids!)!  And there has to be cake – because I know my kids don’t think it’s really a birthday party unless there’s cake!  Ask them to make welcome signs for the new baby, get balloons and decorations, make birthday cards, etc.  Make it a festive, happy party atmosphere for when mom and baby come home.  You can even have them sing “Happy Birthday” to the new baby upon their arrival home!

New sibling gifts

On the flip side, I always have the new baby give a gift to their new big brother and/or sister.  One of my friends suggested this to me way back when I was expecting Nathan and Elizabeth was only two-and-a-half-years old.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant!  Just something that the new baby can “give” to his/her new sibling to say thank for helping take care of me.

 

What are your best suggestions to help older kids prepare for a new baby?  I would love to hear from you!  Please share any sibling bonding or preparation tips in the comments below!

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