By Heather Short
Some days, it feels like there is no escape from the negative: we see it on the news, we see it in public, we read about it, and sometimes we are the victims of it. Whether it stems from the ongoing political conflicts or the stress of military life, we are all exposed to some type of difficult situation. As adults, it may be easier to brush it off and continue on with our day. But what about our children? What they see on television or within their own environments may be confusing. We cannot forget that children are affected by what they see, hear and experience. As a parent, we may sometimes find it difficult ourselves to want to discuss heavy topics with our babies, but here are some tips on how to start the conversation.
Talk: Open the line of communication
Our children look to us for support and security. It is easy to sit down over a meal or maybe during cleanup to start a simple conversation. Remember to keep it at a children’s level. Ask them if they know about a particular subject and how they feel about it. Try to avoid questions that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” It is important to never force a conversation or an answer to a question. You want your child to feel comfortable opening up and not to feel as though they are in trouble for being unable to formulate how they are feeling.
Share your feelings
Be willing to share you feelings with your child during your conversation. Let your child know about something that scared you, made you sad or made you happy. Be honest, and then discuss your feelings. Ask your child how a particular subject made them feel as well. Talk through your feelings and reassure them it is alright to feel that way. One way to help younger children discuss their feelings is by incorporating another activity, like sitting down with them and drawing pictures with crayons. Ask them to draw a picture that expresses how they feel. This will also help open the line of communication.
Listen to them
Younger children and even adolescents do not have the vocabulary of an adult and can sometimes struggle to convey what they are feeling. Be sure to really listen to them and what they are trying to say. During a conversation, they may bounce around from subject to subject or talk for a long time with seemingly no point, but do your best to listen. It is important for children to know you’re taking them seriously and that they can trust telling you anything. If your child can’t quite describe something, it is important to not lead your child by offering up words. They may take that word and run with it, even if it is not necessarily how they are feeling. It may be frustrating and take some time, but do your best to remain calm and listen with an open mind.
Reassure and follow up
After you have finished your conversation, always reassure your child that you will be there for them always and that they can come to you about anything. Also, assure your child that it is alright to have feelings and reactions to things that happen around them, but remind them of appropriate behavior and ways to properly deal with emotions. Let a few days pass and then follow up with your child about the conversation. Ask them how they are feeling and also ask them if they have any questions for you as well. Keeping that line of communication open will always be beneficial to children, no matter what age.