Parenting through Crises

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.
—Anne Lamott, American writer

The start of the school year should be a time of anticipation and discovery. Unfortunately, the past weeks have been marred by horrific school shootings. As parents, we can’t help but think about the unthinkable. And we also struggle with how we help our children sort through what’s happening.

Children need adults—especially their parents—to guide them through these kinds of difficult, confusing, and scary times. As challenging as it can feel, there are ways for us to offer our children and ourselves hope and comfort, to show them that light still shines even in the darkest hours. Here are some suggestions for helping you and your children cope.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Limit your children’s exposure to the details of the situation. If you need to have conversations about it with others, read or watch news shows, or otherwise gather and process information, make every attempt to ensure your children are doing something else during this time.
    • As much as possible maintain routines, with a little extra flexibility. For example: Keep consistent bedtimes and bedtime rituals, but know that children might need more hugs, soothing stories, an additional nightlight, and other comfort measures.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Without going into graphic detail, answer children’s questions truthfully and in clear and simple language.
    • Be realistic in your reassurances. Don’t say, for instance, “I’ll never let anything hurt you.” Instead say, “You’re safe now and I’ll always try to protect you.”
    • Encourage children to express emotions through play or art.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Always listen when your children start to talk about their emotions concerning a difficult event.
    • Know that anger may be a natural extension of other emotions. Anger can make young people feel more in control during times when everything seems out of their control. Help your children find healthy ways to express their anger such as physical activity, breathing exercises, or expressing themselves through music or other arts.
    • Reassure your children that you are doing everything you can to keep your family safe.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Don’t try to “fix” or make assumptions about what your teenager is feeling. It can take a long time for fears, sadness, or other reactions to surface. Give your full attention and validation when they do express themselves, but also be patient and don’t push them to process things until they are ready.
    • Remind your teen that it’s important to connect with others during this time, such as extended family, caring adults, and supportive peers.
  • As a family, find specific ways to help ease others’ pain or troubles that have resulted from the crisis. Send cards of sympathy or encouragement, provide services, or get involved in some other way.

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