Ten Tips for Talking with Children about Violence
- If you feel uncertain about how to start this conversation with children, practice with adults first. Notice the parts of the conversation where you might need assistance and ask for support from other adults.
- Ask children what they know and what they have heard. Listen to the child’s story and follow the child’s lead. Use simple language and correct any misunderstood accounts. Tell a child what they need to know, not all that you know.
- Be there and be calm. Monitor your own emotion and tone of voice. Pay attention to your gestures, affect, and voice because children pay special attention to these ways of communicating. Children scan the faces, voices, and movements of others to discern safety. Your presence, voice, words, soft and loving touches, provide each child with the best ways of feeling safe.
- Share your feelings. It is okay and important for children to know that the adults in their lives have the same feelings when bad things happen. Ask about their feelings. Often children will experience and express their feelings through their body states. Ask them “what” and “where” they feel (e.g., head, tummy, chest, neck, etc.) as well as “how” do they feel.
- Recognize that there are some feelings that we can only share and cannot fix: Children need us to be there with and for them at such times. It’s appropriate to both not have an answer and be with the children in their sadness and confusion.
- While we encourage telling children about the events of January 6th, monitor repeated exposure to images and reports of the events. Provide enough exposure to inform, but not frighten.
- If children do get scared, remember the 3R’s of security: Relationships, Routines and Restoration. Highlight relationships with familiar and consistent caregivers, family, and friends. Protect and increase routines that are familiar and normalizing.
- Provide structure and communicate safety: Uncertainty is the province of adulthood. While we as adults may feel unsure of the state of our democracy, we must always let children know that we will take care of them and protect them.
- A sense of mastery can help alleviate fear and uncertainty. Encourage your children to get involved in a community or service program such as collecting items for a food bank, making a call to their Congressperson, signing a petition, or writing a letter to someone in local government about something that they would like to help change in their community.
- Remember to take care of yourself: We have all been living with the collective stress of Covid-19 and political uncertainty for a l-o-n-g time. Yet, we know that if the adults in a child’s life are overwhelmed, overstressed, and overtired, it will be more difficult for the child to feel safe, secure and stable. Prioritize the cultivation of the “ABCs” of self-care: awareness, balance, and connection, in your own life.
(Costa, G. & Mulcahy, K, 2021)