If recent questions I’ve gotten from my son are any indication, then the world we are living in is an anxiety inducing mess.
“Dad, say things were to continue escalating with Russia or North Korea were to have nuclear weapons… are they more likely to hit the East Coast or the West Coast?”
“Dad, if anti-Semitic incidents are rising so much here in the US, are we going to have to leave the country? Would we go to Canada or Israel?”
“Dad, how easy would it be for there to be a terror attack in Manhattan like the one that just happened in England?”
Clearly, the state of the world is weighing heavy on his mind, as I know it is mine, and answering his valid questions was, and is, extremely challenging. Recognizing this, it became clear to me that in times of adversity and turmoil, stress evokes strong emotions and causes uncertainty in all of us. As parents though, we are in the best position to help our children.
To assist with this, we at NATAL have recently put together some tips on how us parents can best help our kids process their anxiety and concerns. These tips have been prepared to provide broad guidelines to help in these tough conversations. They are meant as a starting point and are in no way the only way to address these issues.
The first tip is to Listen. Some children will want to talk about difficult situations and some won’t. Both reactions are common and natural. If they do want to talk, it’s important to offer a comfortable way to share their thoughts and questions. For those who don’t want to talk, we can’t force the conversation. We should just continue to check in and let them know we are ready to listen whenever they’re ready to talk.
The second tip is to make sure we don’t try and avoid the hard conversations. Of course, we all love our children and as parents we understandably don’t want to cause anxiety and distress in them. Still, this can sometimes lead to avoiding difficult conversations that we assume will evoke these emotions. It is very important for us to remember that it is the situation itself that is upsetting to our loved ones, not the conversations about it. We should invite the conversation with open-ended questions such as: “What would you like to know?” or “How does this make you feel?” but should also let our child’s interests and thoughts guide the conversation.
Third, once the conversation has begun, it is absolutely all right to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. It’s all right not to know the answer to every question. If we can’t answer the question, we should be honest about it.
The fourth tip is to monitor the TV and internet our children are consuming. Television programs and social media will cover the news in depth, and may include footage of scenes that are not appropriate for all kids to view. Similarly, children may use the internet to seek out answers to their questions. We should be actively involved in the quality and amount of information they receive, and be prepared to interpret it with them when necessary.
Fifth, we should all be prepared for your children to ask questions about the circumstances. We should be aware of our tones, remain calm and not appear anxious. We should answer their questions in a way that is honest and age appropriate; sharing what is being done to keep them, their family members, and friends safe.
The sixth tip is that it also important to remember that children’s responses to difficult situations will vary depending on their age, personality, and exposure to past experiences. My son is very different than my daughter and they each process and respond to information very differently. There is no right or wrong emotional response to fear or anxiety. As such, we should be aware and sensitive to changes in mood, behavior, and daily habits including appetite and sleep patterns (changes are normal for a short period of time). If distress is persistent, worsens or is interfering with daily functioning, we should talk with their pediatrician or other healthcare/mental health provider.
Seventh, just as with our kids, it’s important to remember that the same holds true for adults. As such, we must also take care of ourselves. No one is immune to emotions triggered by the world around us. We must acknowledge and attend to our own reactions and feelings. We are our children’s best resource, so the best way to help them is to keep ourselves safe and healthy too. Furthermore, family is often the best source of support during difficult situations. In times like these, our children need to rely on their parents and siblings. As such, this is an opportunity for families not only to demonstrate their resilience, but also to strengthen their ties.
Finally, it is extremely important that we encourage hope. While difficult situations can have certainly have negative consequences, they can also have positive outcomes. It is important that we keep an optimistic attitude and look forward to the future. Remember, people who maintain hope and engage themselves in positive thinking develop resiliency and enhance their chance of coping with the adversity while maintaining their wellbeing.
As I said at the outset, these are trying times and none of us have all the answers. What we do have as parents though is the responsibility to help our children navigate these stresses. Hopefully you will find these pieces of advice helpful and may we will all find ourselves living in far less scary times soon.
About NATAL: NATAL-ISRAEL’S TRAUMA AND RESILIENCY CENTER is the largest and most comprehensive trauma treatment organization in Israel. NATAL’s overarching mission is addressing the prevalent problem of psychological trauma related to terrorism and war. NATAL specializes in providing broad mental health programs and services to all Israelis. With multiple programs in Israel, throughout the country, it is an apolitical nonprofit, helping all Israelis — Jewish, Muslim or Christian. Since 1998 NATAL has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis by providing support for trauma and PTSD survivors, and advancing the resiliency of Israeli society through treatment, prevention, public awareness and research.
NATAL’s International Work: While NATAL’s work began in Israel, our mission resonates worldwide, in recent years NATAL has been called upon to export its deep expertise internationally to at-risk communities and populations and has undertaken groundbreaking collaborations to assist American wounded warriors dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as a partnership with inner-city Chicago faith leaders to assist in dealing with the traumas related to on-going gang violence.