2020 was an immense challenge for children and their families, and the start of 2021 has also been rocky. Many of us were hopeful about the New Year being a lighter, happier, and less difficult year but there is still much turmoil in this country which is hard to ignore. The struggle facing many parents is how to raise children in this environment, and how to speak to them about life in an honest way, without causing fear and anxiety.
Children are like sponges; they soak up information from everywhere. Kids pick up on cues from their friends, family, news headlines and social media. Although discussing difficult events can seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be.
Parents often have anticipatory anxiety when it comes to these discussions. On the bright side, the fear of what could unfold is often much worse than the actual conversation that takes place.
Many parents have concerns about potentially “pointing out” hot button issues to their children due to fear of drawing attention to something kids may not notice yet. As much as we might want that sentiment to be true. Children are very perceptive and are already quite aware of what is happening in their immediate environment.
One consistent attribute of children is their exploration of the world in the form of questions. If they have seen events either on the streets or in the news, chances are they have already asked someone about them.
It’s important to have these discussions with kids because difficult events that occur throughout history are not going away. Children are very vigilant and will directly observe how parents address these topics in their own lives – or how they don’t. Instead of thinking of this discussion as terrifying, think of it as an opportunity to help your child become a more understanding, empathetic, and caring human being.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Be open
Children are curious by nature. They are going to ask you tough questions. And it’s ok to not have all the answers. If they ask you a question you don’t know how to answer, tell them that. By doing so you’re successfully modeling that adults don’t have all the answers all the time, and taking time to think about your response is ok.
2. Differences and commonalities
Children are much more likely to see the world through a lens of what makes people different from one another. It’s easier to conceptualize what is different, as opposed to what is similar, especially for younger children. Acknowledge that their observations are valid. Share that while people may look different, or think differently we can still have many things in common.
3. Be curious
This is a stressful time and your children are likely to be feeling this too. Encourage them to talk to you about things they have on their mind, and to be curious about what is happening around them. If you don’t know how your child is managing with these stressors, ask them – chances are they have a lot to say but don’t know how to bring it up.
4. Check in with yourself first
Children will look to the adults in their lives for guidance. If you’re not sure how you feel about what’s going on, take some time to think about it. Talk to people you trust, read and educate yourself on current events so you feel comfortable with the questions your kids might ask you.
Exposing kids to different social groups helps improve cross-cultural communication, understanding and empathy. There are many fun and creative ways to bring diversity into your home. Try watching a foreign film and having a discussion about it at the end. Find a new recipe to try and help your kids research the country it came from and the people who live there.
Remember, your children don’t expect you to be perfect. And it’s ok to not have all the answers. This is a unique time in history, and presents an opportunity to talk to your children about kindness, compassion, diversity and respect.
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