The news is hard to hear this week. It’s been difficult for quite a while now. Each time life is taken so senselessly, it’s another collective punch in the gut. And since it is in the news and it is being talked about, it’s something that we will probably have to talk to our kids about. It’s interesting that these hard events have come during May, a month of focusing on mental health. Certainly such acts of violence against the innocent leave us in a state of trauma. The families affected are going through so much more. So how do we help our kids stay in a good place mentally when things are difficult around them? Let’s think about our kids’ mental health in hard times.
Talk about it
We have discussed how to talk about difficult issues with our kids here before. This post gives some tips on how to talk to our kids when ugly things happen in the world.
According to mental health experts, the important thing is that we do talk about hard topics with our kids. Of course, if you have a toddler, it’s probably not necessary to bring up school shootings. But by the time your kids are around the age of 8, they are likely hearing about things anyway. So it is crucial to actually talk about hard world issues with your kids.
Be the source of information
Additionally, it’s really important that the information comes from you as their parent. This ends up being tricky when we as parents are processing our own emotions about a tragedy. So be sure you have taken at least a little time to process your own feelings about the event. But it’s crucial that you be their source of information so that you can help them process the event in a healthy way.
How do we get this conversation going? Child psychology experts recommend that we start with a little bit of information, like an introduction, really just a couple of sentences. Then our kids will ask whatever questions they have, and usually they don’t ask things that they aren’t ready to hear the answers to. There’s no need to fully exhaust the topic. Just answer their questions. If you have children in multiple age groups, you can talk about it as a group. Keep in mind that your older kids are going to be able to go further and deeper than your younger kids. So be aware of what might be too much for your younger kids. It’s OK to tell your older kids that you would really like to continue the discussion later, just between them and you.
Follow up behaviors and symptoms
May is indeed Mental Health Awareness Month. And the first week of May was specifically dedicated to children’s mental health. Kids’ mental health is not an issue we generally focus on, but it is still really important. Many times we see behavioral issues in children that really stem from mental health issues. So it’s crucial to think about kids’ mental health in these hard times.
Now, we hear that phrase “mental health issues,” and we hear something so big and negative and scary. But any experience that causes distress or anxiety on any level can affect our brains. There’s a lot of science around this. I won’t go into the brain science here, although I do find the jobs of the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala so fascinating. Really, it comes down to the fact that our brains are wired to keep us alive, not to keep us happy. So sometimes, in an effort to protect us, our brains sabotage our happiness to allow us to handle a stressful event.
When this happens, the stress of the situation can come out in other ways. It could be what looks like a bad attitude. There could be some unusual insecurity, stubbornness, or even nightmares. This is all really very normal, and it will look different for every kid. Let’s be aware of the potential follow up behavior that is possible, so that we as parents can handle it wisely. And handling it wisely is probably just showing sympathy for their feelings. We cannot take those feelings away, but we can help them to identify what they are feeling and then sympathize with them.
It’s always OK to get professional help too. Please don’t let there be a stigma that holds you back from getting help for yourself or for your children when you need help processing difficult feelings.
My Signing Time and Positive Input
At My Signing Time, we are very proud of our positive, empowering programming. It is so important to encourage and empower our kids. And if your kids are going through a difficult time, positive input is really helpful. So consider letting us into your homes to share some uplifting and affirming educational shows. It’s just one way to bring some positive information to your children. You can try a My Signing Time digital subscription with a 14-day free trial right here.