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How to Talk to Your Children (and Yourself) About Violence

How to talk to children about violence, has been on my mind a lot in the last year.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile.  But frankly… I had no idea what to say.  It felt like my obligation as a mental health professional and grief counselor, but something kept stopping me.  With every tragic headline of 2017, I opened my laptop and promptly shut it.  

To be honest, before kids I probably would have written something based on research and what I learned in school in about 20 minutes and not given it a second thought.  Now as a mom, I’m at a loss.  Some of what I know as a therapist still makes sense:

  • Start where your child is, take their lead, listen to their questions.
  • Use age-appropriate language 
  • Make it many small conversations rather than trying to push their attention span to the limit.
  • Always sandwich the negative with some positive (ex. most people make good choices and care about others, that man in Vegas you heard about, he made bad choices and did not care about others, but after he made bad choices thousands of other people came together and did good and helped each other. Most people want the world to be a better and safe place.)
  • Try to use more facts than emotions but also share your feelings about what happened and how you deal with that (mommy felt a little scared but then remembered we were very far away and just watching on tv, then mommy felt sad for the people that got hurt but really proud that so many people came to help)

Children have an amazing coping mechanism that we lose as we grow. 

Their brain will only retain as much as their emotions can handle.  We have all experienced this when our child asks a hard question, we take a deep breath and get ready to explain everything. Then halfway through your third sentence, your kid says, “did you know that Lightning McQueen is the fastest race car ever on the planet?” Or some variation on this.  That’s the cue, the conversation is over to be picked up another day. 

My mom feeling is – I want my kids to have some reality, to be aware, so they can stay as safe as possible.  However, I also don’t want them to live in fear.  I want to find a balance. To me this seems like the hardest part.  This and putting a positive spin on these horrible senseless tragedies. 

This last one is hard because how do we help our kids see the light and hope in the darkness if we aren’t seeing it ourselves?

This is what pushed me to finally write this post. 

I realized what is most import is that we know how to talk to ourselves about the violence in the world.  If we can have some peace about it than our parents intuition will do most of the work for us with our kids.  

I recently saw multiple social media posts from moms and had one mom friend ask me directly, how do we handle this? Here are some of the thoughts and questions I heard/read:

Why do bad things happen to good people? 

The constant news notifications on our phones that we are permanently attached to sure doesn’t help, maybe I need to turn them off. 

Its not just the violence its the random tragedies, the dad that had a sudden brain bleed while sitting in his car, the family that died in the rented cabin that had a faulty heater system… its just too much.

Then sometimes we feel guilty that when we only look for good or fun we are turning our backs on bad things that are happening.  – The whole thing is well.. overwhelming.

Here is my response

You aren’t turning your back, you are surviving.  We can also find good in the bad.  For example the thousands of people lined up to give blood after Route 91.  Or the first responders and lawyers and judge that put the guy that beat his step son, away forever. Or the grief counselors and community members that are going to lift up the friends and family of Blaze Bernstein. 

There is more good in this world than bad. The bad just makes the news and it stings.  As for the random tragedies… well I guess we hope and pray for those impacted by it and we pray and hope that the next random tragedy doesn’t impact us directly. 

You live your best self every day and you love on the people that matter the most every chance you get.

Its not a perfect world, with beauty comes some ugly.  Reach for the beauty.  Be the light in the dark moments.  

Have Hope Be Hope

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