Growing up my biggest fear was the Boogeyman. I slept with nightlights and was scared to go into the woods by myself. My mom would always tell me be brave the boogeyman isn’t real. When I had children I told them the same thing. The Boogeyman isn’t real. As I got older I realized my mom and I were both wrong. The Boogeyman is real and it is terrifying.
The Boogeyman comes in many forms. It can be one of the mass shooters, a child abuser, a person who commits crimes against others, or even fear itself. Any tragedy can be the Boogeyman. This past week alone there were mass shootings in Dayton Ohio, Chicago, and El Paso. In the past years there have been even more and other tragedies that can just not be explained. So what do you do when your children see the news or hear a story and realize the Boogeyman is real? How do you talk to your children when tragedy occurs? How do you prepare them? Here is how I have responded when my children learned Boogeyman is real. Here are a few tips to help your children when something bad happens.
Where Do You Start
Always start by asking a very basic question to find out what they have already heard. You do not want to overload them with information that they have no clue how to process. Also if they still have not reached the age where they are questioning safety and things happening in the world then there is no point in adding that extra emotional burden. If they have heard something or do have concerns then the next step is to educate them. When trying to talk to your children when a tragedy occurs make sure you give them the information they need.
Education is Key
When a tragedy occurs and your children learn the Boogeyman is real there are things as a parent you will need to do. Certain situations can make a person feel like things are out of control. This can be a stressor for adults and especially for children who are just learning how to handle their emotions. When anything happens let your children be educated. Many children will have heard things especially if they are older. If they have heard then provide them with the facts and be prepared for questions. Also let them know possibilities in how they may feel and assure them it is completely normal.
It is important to talk to your children when a tragedy occurs. Always be willing to answer questions. When a large tragedy occurs be prepared to answer questions at a age appropriate level. Even when something smaller happens children have questions. I know for myself a situation is always scarier if my questions go unanswered. Allow them to ask questions and answer them honestly. Showing your child that they have your support and that you are open and available to talk will go a ling way to helping them handle big emotions.
Being able to help your child when something bad happens can be different between each child. If you have a kiddo who is not prone to initiating a conversation then try to initiate one with them and see how they respond. When they have questions answer them. If they do not have questions then keep a eye on behavior to see if perhaps something is bothering them but they have not brought it up yet. If you see changes in their behavior, attitude, or sleep then maybe casually address it and let them know you are there when and if they are ready to talk.
Monitor Their Information
Even though you want to educate your children about situations you want to monitor this education. Make sure to educate based on age and maturity. You know what your child can and can not understand. The National Association for School Pyschologists makes age suggestions.
- Young Children: Need brief, simple information and reassurances that they are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of safety measures in place.
- Middle Age Children: They will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done to ensure their safety. Let them ask questions and provide safety ideas.
- Older Children: They will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in society. Allow them to share concrete suggestions about how to make their lives safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that they can play in promoting a safe environment in society.
We do our best to monitor our children’s exposure. Some people think this means television, books, and video games. It is so much more than that. For example the radio. Recently my sons and I were in the car listening to music. Eventually the DJ came on and before I knew it was discussing things that happen in today’s world. Another example is the News. People read and watch the news to stay informed.
Decide how much you want your children to be informed. The News often goes into detail on incidents and has even shown pictures of things before. My husband and I choose to restrict watching the news so that our children our not inadvertently exposed to more than they are ready for. If by chance they do see the news then make sure to let them know that you are there to protect them and while they don’t need to live in fear they can live informed.
Be Understanding and Patient
Not everyone responds to situations the same way. I have 4 boys and each responds differently to the same thing. When I need to talk to my children because something happened I always have to keep this in mind. One may respond by becoming quiet and withdrawn while another may act out. As a parent it is important to watch for signs of stress in your child. No matter how they respond realize that it is completely normal and approach it in the best way for their response.
Patience is important.When you talk to your child because a tragedy occurred go at their pace. Everyone processes and heals in their own time frame. You can not slow down or speed up your children’s processing. All you can do is provide vital support and education. Make sure your children understand you are there for them and that as a family you will support each other.
Empower Them Through Preparation
Preparing your children to live in this world is vital. It will help them feel safer knowing they have ways to hopefully stay safe. Teach them that it is necessary to be aware of your surrounding is important. With our children we teach that not all people are bad but some are so you have to protect yourself. Our first thing were safe words. My children each have a different word. If a stranger approaches if they do not say that word then my children know without a doubt my husband and I did not send that person. Each children also has a code red word. If they say it or text it I know immediately they need my help. They know that word is to only be used in a emergency. One important thing is make sure the word is not a everyday word so it will stand out.
This may sound excessive but after the major shooting at the Boston Marathon my 12 yr old had questions about what to do if someone starts shooting. Rather than explain we found a Tae Kwon Do studio that was hosting a active shooter class. The entire family went. It taught how to run, where to run, how to make yourself small, and a whole lot of other things. This class empowered my son and made him feel as though if he were to get in a situation he could try his best to escape safely.
When you talk to your child make sure they know they can not control everything. Despite all your preparations make sure your children know that sometimes bad things happen that are out of your control. Make sure they know that if something does happen they can always go to you or another trusted adult. Make sure they know that sometimes despite all the preparations things may happen that they can not stop and it is not their fault.
Circle Back/Follow Up
Check in periodically to make sure children are continuing to handle the situation and cope normally. If they are not they may need additional support. This can be in the form of further conversation with a trusted adult, therapy services, or further education. Sometimes children do not even recognize stress or have typical stress indicators. Some common indicators of stress in children are:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Emotional outbursts
- Unexplained physical ailments such as headache or stomach ache
If your child experiences any of these then it may be a sign that they need to talk to you some more or perhaps talk to someone else they trust. Remember they have to process at their own speed.
Hope is what keeps life moving. When I talk to my children I always point out hope. When discussing tragedies we always look for who is helping. Pointing out that there are still people helping will make the good stand out so they are not overwhelmed by the bad. When you talk to them if they feel the need to help find a way as a family. This can be in the form of care packages or if it is local attending a vigil. Even with everyday life let your child build hope. Volunteer somewhere and help others. Make sure your child knows that despite tragedy, despite evil, and despite fear there is hope. There are so many people who help daily and who are there to provide hope.