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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Getting Beyond the One Word Answer

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This article is brought to you by CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist Dr. Carlos Konishi Ph.D on conversation starters for kids and advice on how parents can encourage communication beyond the one word answer. Getting kids to share more can be a challenge at times, especially for parents of teenagers. His information on how to get kids to open up gave me so many “AHA!” moments during my interview I actually had to apologize for saying “TOTALLY!”  so many times after he said something that struck a chord. I was like an 80’s teenager myself. Totally.

conversation starters for kids

One word answers.

Ugh.

How was your day?

Fine.

Good.

Okay.

What did you do?

Not much.

The process of trying to get more information out of your child can be painful at times, like pulling teeth. So how do you get beyond the one word answer?

Here is Dr. Konishi’s insightful advice… be ready to say TOTALLY yourself…

1. CHOOSE YOUR TIMING WISELY

Have you ever come home from a long day and had your spouse ask, “how was your day?” right when you walk in but felt too tired to even put a sentence together?

Dr. Konishi said children and teenagers are exactly the same.

Their school days and life in general require a lot of energy from them.  To have you chirp, “How was your day?” the instant you greet your child after school might not be the best timing.

If you sense your child is not in the mood to talk right away, he suggested giving them some wind down time.

You can let them know you really want to hear about their day when they are ready to talk, and then keep an ear out for other situations when conversation happens naturally. It might be in the kitchen when they are eating a snack, or in the car on the way to a sport practice, or right before bedtime.

Point being, don’t think the immediate moment you see them has to be the time to discuss all that happened in those hours when you were apart. Opportunities will arise, we might just have to exercise a little patience, and take the cues from our child as to when they are in the mood to share.

2. BE CREATIVE

“How was your day?”

Isn’t that usually the go-to question? Dr. Konishi said frankly kids might be tired of it and find it BORING which is why it doesn’t inspire more than a one word answer!

He suggested getting a little more creative in your questioning by asking different, specific questions about their day instead. More like bite size questions vs. a general one. Sometimes these types of questions are easier for kids to process and express.

For example, if you knew they had a specific project going on in one class or subject, you could ask an open-ended question about it.  Or, ask what activity they did at morning recess and who they played with?

You can also be creative in the timing of your questioning. During fun family activities like a walk, bike ride, or family game can be great times to talk.  Speaking of games, he highly recommends a game of conversation starters called TABLETOPICS which you can pick up on Amazon. There is a Family edition and Teen edition and it is a fun way to get the family talking. Not just the kids, but the parents too! (Amazon affiliate links)

tabletopics

3. BEWARE OF AUTOPILOT MODE

Many times the question, “how was your day?” simply comes from us being in autopilot mode – and it is possible that it in turn triggers an autopilot response of “good” or “fine” from our kids in return.

Dr. Konishi recommended that before starting a conversation with your kids, to first do a self-check as to whether you are able to really listen to what they have to say. Kids can sense when we are multi-tasking and not really listening. In this case, they might not want to answer because they know you aren’t listening.

Bottom line, 0ne way to improve communication with your kids is to start the conversation when you really have time to listen and be present.

4. DON’T FOCUS ON YOUR AGENDA. EXPLORE THEIR INTERESTS.

When starting conversations with our kids many times our questions come from the information we want to know. But these topics might not be super interesting to our kids.

Dr. Konishi said a powerful communication tool can be to tune into their interests and ask questions about the things that excite them. Kids are more likely to open up when it is a topic they want to talk about.

Making children feel like you share and acknowledge their passions is a great way to build better communication, because they know they can share things about it with you.

5. PICK AND CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES

Often times dialogue and conversation between parents and kids can start to go into negative spiral due to constant nit-picking from parents, which can be especially true as children become tweens and teens.  Naturally parents expect more out of older kids, but that can mean kids are constantly being told what to do, what they did wrong, or how to do something different.

If your child starts to feel like all conversations with you are negative, they can start to tune you out because they are conditioned to think you are just going to nag them again.

Dr. Konishi recommends pausing before approaching your child with something that is bothering you and ask yourself, “Is this really important?”

If it is, then by all means, start the conversation about it. But he then advises to keep your message concise and focused on the behavior – not your child’s character. When complaints are piled upon complaints the initial message can be lost. And when a child feels you are judging who they are (and not what they did), the doors will close.  

To take that one step further, he also advises parents to pause and assess whether you can approach the conversation and keep your own emotions cool.  If you can’t, your child will shut the door and go on the defensive.  This is a natural human trait when someone feels attacked. So, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if you can have the conversation without “losing it”? If the answer is no, it is probably best to wait to discuss it with your child.

 YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Dr. Konishi wants parents to realize they are NOT alone, and you don’t have to take on parenting challenges alone.

Parenting is hard. There is no instruction manual and every child is uniquely different. The truth is we don’t have all the answers, and it is OK to ask for help if you are experiencing problems with your child.  There is so much power in sharing your struggles because it encourages others to open up too, and gives us the the opportunity to learn from each other.

He wants parents to seek support…whether it’s from friends, a parenting class, or a family therapist.

One final note he also wanted to stress was that it is normal and natural for kids to go through phases where they are a little more quiet than usual, and it is normal for some kids to be innately less verbal and for some to be more talkative.

You know your child the best. What we always want to stay on the look out for are sudden changes in behavior and/or functioning. If a normally open child suddenly becomes more closed up or has challenges with daily functioning, it might be time to seek professional help. We are so blessed to have places to turn to, like the professionals at CHOC Children’s mental health services.

Get more parenting tips from CHOC experts

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

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Sleep Help for Kids

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Sleep Meditations for Kids 

sleep meditations for kids

The end of the day is an exhausting time for everyone, especially moms, so there are few things more frustrating than bedtime struggles with kids. If I am being honest, there have been more times than I can even count when I have screamed to myself in my head, “Just go the BLANK to SLEEP!!!!” when bedtime shenanigans have prolonged the process more than I can tolerate.

The past year, in addition to the typical “do anything possible to prolong the bedtime routine”, my oldest daughter was also having a lot of problems going to sleep.

She told me she couldn’t fall asleep because she couldn’t stop her mind from worrying.  Oh, how we all can relate to that.

My sister was having the same issues with her son, and ended up researching sleep meditations for kids and sent me this sleep mediation she found.

We downloaded the app to an old phone and although resistant at first because she thought it was kind of silly, she listened to it and went to sleep without issue the first time trying it.

She then asked for it again the next night, and she now listens to it every night to go to sleep.  It has been amazing for our family, which is why I wanted to share it with you.

It’s called Sleep Meditations for Kids by Christiane Kerr.

It would be my dream that it might help you too.

Sweet dreams mamas.

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What Will Your Kid’s Friends Remember About You?

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Mtvmoon

My mom was diagnosed in August with pancreatic cancer.  You can read about it here and here.

In times like this, having a support system and people rallying around you is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. In the spirit of having another place for people to share their support, my sister and I started a Facebook page for my mom to share inspiration and updates.

Yesterday one of my sister’s childhood friends wrote a comment to my mom that hit me. It said,

“Praying for you Julie. I have the fondest memories of you letting us watch MTV at your house.”

I love this memory of my mom. First, because it brought back my own memories of MTV when it first came out. I will never forget the rocket ship and intrigue surrounding that channel – a revolution in the making.

I am sure many parents in the 80’s were concerned about what they were exposing their kids to. Was MTV in the 80s what Elvis’ hip moves were to the previous generation?

I wonder if my mom letting her watch MTV at our house was magical because she wasn’t allowed to or if the memories were just connected to being at our home during that time in life.

It doesn’t really matter, but what struck me is the fact that our role as moms will be connected to other kids’ memories down the road.  Isn’t that powerful?

What will I be known for many years down the road?  What will my children’ friends remember about coming to our house? I don’t have a clear answer to that – but it sure made me think about it.

Does answer come to your mind? How will your kid’s friends remember you when they are all grown up?

I would love to hear your comments!

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Halftime

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I was on Facebook yesterday and saw a friend’s post of her baby girl’s nursery, her first baby, who is due any day now.  It took me back to early June, 9 years ago, when I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my first baby girl.

This baby turns 9 today.

Our-Sweetheart
I read this post titled, To My Daughter, At Halftime, not too long ago and it hit me right in the heart because I could relate so much. Today I have a daughter at the halftime of her childhood.

I needed Kleenex. Not because I’m sad she’s getting older, or growing up too fast, but because I am so proud of the person she is becoming and 

Growing more into the person she was born to be.

When she was born I believed it was my role to shape her into the person I thought she would be. Or should be.

Now granted, there has been a whole lot of parenting done the past 9 years, but the essence of WHO she is, in her soul, was the way she came out of the womb.

This realization has been one of my most profound lessons of parenthood.

It would have been a lot easier if I realized from the get go.

She was not an easy baby. 

SO FUSSY. So, so, so fussy.  She wouldn’t let me put her down.

She wanted to be walked around, looking at things.  She would get bored easily. I would put her in the exersaucer to try to get dinner going, but then after 30 seconds she would start fussing until I came to relieve her of the exersaucer torture.

I thought I was doing something wrong as a mom. Why was she so fussy?  I wanted to make her HAPPY.  Isn’t that our goal as a mom – to make our children happy? To me I was failing because she was so fussy.

I would visit with friends who had mellow babies and marvel at how they appeared to be content.

Emma was the opposite of content. I used to describe her as “unsatisfied,”

She just wanted MORE.

But now as a 9-year-old I love this quality in her. I love her quest for knowledge. I love how she asks endless questions. I love her energy. I love her movement.  She’s a little gymnast, so she’s on her head half the time in handstands. It’s a joy to watch her.

She was this same person when she was a baby, but stuck without words or able to move on her own. 

No wonder she was fussy.

She was also a challenging toddler and young girl. Strong-willed was an understatement. She is very black and white – knows what she wants and is relentless in getting it.

She wore the same pair of pink Crocs for her entire 2-year-old year. I have a picture of her in her beautiful Christmas dress in dirty light pink Crocs. No amount of bargaining, tricking or convincing would change the fact that she was NOT going to wear another pair of shoes.

pinkcrocs

Photo credit: Erin Palos

This relentless conviction used to frustrate me to NO end.  WHY couldn’t she just put on another darn pair of shoes? WHY did she make things so difficult?

She likely wondered the same thing about me.  

No wonder she was fussy.

But now I love that quality in her.  She has a very strong sense of right and wrong and uses that same unwavering conviction to navigate good choices.

I love that she will be a woman who knows what she wants in life – and she will get it.

After an emotionally charged doctor’s visit for her two-year-old well check where she very clearly expressed her unhappiness with the appointment, my pediatrician looked at me with wide eyes and  told me, you really have a spirited child, and wrote down a book for me to get, “How to Raise a Spirited Child“.

I looked up the title, and the description was A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic. Yep. That pretty much summed her up. Then and now.

Raising a spirited little one can be draining.  I was tired for many years raising my spirited child. 

But at 9-years-old I appreciate her spirit more than words can express.

I love her intensity. Her passion for life, learning and her sport. I love her sensitivity and kind heart. I love her perceptiveness and how she doesn’t miss a beat. I love talking with her about her perceptions and observations. I love her persistence. If she sets a goal, she achieves it. I love her boundless energy.

As a new mom I wish I would have known then what I know now.

Knowing my Emma today would have made SO much more sense when she was a baby. I would have looked at her and said, “Of course. I get you.”

I wouldn’t have fought it so much or thought something was wrong. I would have realized she is who she is, and those same qualities that made her a challenging baby and young child are the same qualities that make her who she is, which is a pretty spectacular little girl.

When I told my friend on Facebook, you have the the best day of your life to look forward to, when thinking about it, that’s  not completely true. The experience of watching your child grow into the person they are only gets better and better and better.

Today I celebrate the fact we are at halftime, because I feel the best is still yet to come.

halftime

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