John Ernst, Ph.D. Talks About… Talking to Good Kids About Bad Stuff

The current uncertainty about local, national, and world health issues is potentially stressful for many adults, causing changes in people’s lifestyles as well as in the way they think. Psychologically, it is important to avoid ‘anticipatory anxiety,’ where people become unnecessarily worried and concerned about events that may or may not even happen. However, we can avoid such negative thinking (and related behavior) by arming ourselves with factual information and acting realistically, rationally and optimistically.

But let’s not forget about the kids. It’s important to remember that because children can obtain information (and misinformation) from so many electronic sources, no amount of duct tape or plastic can keep certain issues out of the home. They also hear and see what adults are saying and doing and are often more sensitive to changes in family moods and routines than adults may realize. Thus, more so than ever, this is a time for honest yet reassuring family interaction that prioritizes the well-being of our youngsters. Here’s a list of a few things parents can do to improve communication with their children about difficult topics and concerns that are a part of real life:

  • Remember that kids aren’t mini-adults. They perceive things in ’their world’ on a much different level than their parents.
  • Parents can use the topics their kids might inadvertently see on the TV news as opportunities to teach their children to better understand emotions and life in general.
  • Listening to your children is critical because it guides what you’ll say to them. Don’t just ‘broadcast.’ Let your kids know that their thoughts and opinions are important, whether they’re accurate or not.
  • Keep your responses simple, honest, and reassuring.
  • Avoid giving your children more information than they’re ready for by providing most of it on their own ’need-to-know’ basis.
  • Make sure that the information you provide to your kids is age-appropriate. The amount of detail should depend on your child’s age and level of comprehension.
  • All kids are different. Some are bothered by very little and others are more prone to worry and anxiety. Look for any changes in your child’s usual behavior and temperament. Is a quiet child acting out or fighting more? Is an outgoing child becoming quieter? Are there difficulties with sleeping or eating? If so, it might be time for a talk.
  • Remember that children need the assurance of stability, safety, and routine in their lives; uncertainty can create anxiety. Provide them with positive, concrete examples that are specific to their world.
  • Let them know that even parents experience sadness, worry, and fear. But also give your child examples of how you, as an adult, constructively cope with such emotions.
  • Even if your child isn’t interested in talking at a particular moment, reassure him or her that you’ll always be there to talk with them or to answer any questions in the future.

Of course, a simple list can’t provide solutions for all possible situations, but by following some of the above guidelines you just might end up having a constructive conversation with your child – and that’s a pretty wonderful event.

 

Copyright – 2020 – John Ernst, PhD

 

John Ernst, PhD, LPC, treats children, adolescents, families, individual adults and couples in outpatient psychotherapy for diverse clinical issues. He is presently accepting new patients. To establish an appointment, please contact Dr. Ernst at 414-329-7000 and ask for him specifically to discuss your initial questions.