Most parents try and protect their kids from all of the terrible stuff in life, but since we can’t cut off a child’s access to the Internet or put them into a plastic bubble until they are 18, we have to learn to help them cope with many of life’s challenges, disappointments, and fears.
Death, illness, divorce, and bullying all hit close to home and can be very hard for children. Even events in the news that have no direct bearing on their lives can invade a child’s thoughts and cause them to be overcome with fear and anxiety.
Parents should find a private and quiet place to engage a child about these topics. All the facts should be presented briefly and simply, so the child understands exactly what is happening. Don’t forget to express how you are feeling so the child is aware that changes in your mood and behavior are a result of this event. For example, when discussing the death of someone close, avoid euphemisms, as they are confusing to a child. Don’t refer to the person as “going to sleep” or “going away,” as those terms will cause anxiety any time they are heard again.
Children have a heat-seeking radar when it comes to discomfort in the family and may already be aware something is happening even before you discuss the topic. Give them the attention they deserve during these hard moments and encourage them to express their feelings. Many children will internalize the emotions they are feeling and, in some cases, can blame themselves for the incident, such as blaming themselves for their parents’ divorce.
Lastly, if you feel your child isn’t coping well or notice a change in their behavior that your child is reluctant to discuss with you, it’s best to seek professional help. Some behaviors are a direct result not of a recent family issue but of an external force like watching a friend get bullied at school. Some children simply can’t grasp all the complex emotions they may experience and will stuff those down until a coping behavior takes root such as lashing out at family members or extreme quietness. The best rule of thumb is to get your child talking, either to you or a professional.