By Lakiesha Russell, LPC
Child and family therapist, Children’s Wisconsin
As a child and family therapist, I’ve received questions from parents wanting to talk to their children about what they’re seeing in the news — the good, the bad and the ugly.
As parents, we want to be able to have conversations with our kids about everything. However, sometimes we might struggle to know where to start with the tough conversations, like the impact of COVID-19 on the community and the reality of race and racism. It’s not easy but know that you’re not alone. Looking for resources and preparing for that conversation is a great first step.
Here are some tips to help parents begin to have those tough conversations.
Keep it simple. In general, it is best to share basic information about potentially traumatic situations and skip the unnecessary information. For example, try to avoid any graphic details regarding a person’s injuries or viewing news stories that show images from a traumatic scene.
Allow your child to share. As parents we often want to tell our kids what to think or even how to behave. However, with these kinds of conversations, it is okay to allow your child the opportunity to share their feelings and thoughts without interrupting. If your child shares something that you don’t agree with it, let them to continue speaking and explore that. When they are done, revisit those conversation pieces.
Normalize their feelings. You can help your child process their feelings by letting them know that what they’re feeling is normal. For example, “It is normal to feel sad and worried, or maybe even a little mad that this has happened. I feel that way, too.”
Ask open-ended questions. One way to start is to ask your child what have they heard or what have they seen. You can even make the conversation more relatable by asking them if they have ever had a time when they felt something wasn’t fair and how did that make them feel.
It’s okay to come back to something. As parents we don’t have to pretend to have all the answers. If your child asks a question that you’re not sure how to answer, be honest and let your child know that you will come back to the question. However, don’t forget to come back to that question when you are able to better address it and complete the conversation.
This is an ongoing conversation. Keep in mind some conversations, such as those about race and racism, are ongoing ones. Our children will continue to go through life experiences in different environments and will always have questions or thoughts.
Ask for help. It’s okay to seek professional help with having these tough conversations. A professional such as a therapist, or even a family member or trusted friend, can help give you some techniques and tips. Being able to ask for help about these conversations shows you are willing to learn something new yourself.
For the latest tips and news from Children’s Wisconsin, go to childrenswi.org/newshub.
If you have questions about your child’s health, please contact your child’s doctor. If they don’t have a doctor, call 2-1-1 and an operator can director you to the nearest community health clinic or other needed resources.