It can be overwhelming to think about how to discuss a tragic event with your children.
“Mama, do people hate us?”, “Why did this happen?”, “Were they bad people” These heartbreaking questions are overwhelming for so many of us. Many of you are wondering what to do and how to make healthy decisions for your family in these difficult times. Maybe your family is directly affected or perhaps the constant media exposure is grating on your emotions and heightening your anxiety. Either way, The Family and Youth Institute is here for you. Take a deep breath and read on for tips and pointers that we hope will guide and help you and your family.
Process Your Own Fears and Anxiety First
You may be feeling anxious and struggling to try to make sense of the recent event and its implications for your family.
First, take a moment to steady yourself.
Remember what you do have control over and focus on that!
Take a break – including unplugging from news and social media, and take care of yourself. Rely on these suggested coping skills that may help you at this moment. Reach out to people who can help you process your thoughts and feelings. While you may be stressed for good reason, it is important to not pass it on to your children.
Listen to Your Children
It is important that you listen to your children before jumping into troubleshooting mode or trying to solve what you perceive to be their concerns. First, understand what is going on in your child’s mind, what are they actually worried about, and what are their immediate concerns. You do not want to elevate your child’s anxiety by responding to a different concern than the one they are expressing. If you have multiple children at different developmental stages, it might be good to talk at the youngest’s level as a family and then speak individually with older children. A guide on how to speak to your child given their stage of development can be found here:
Reassure Your Children
Before talking with your child consider the message you want to convey in your conversation. This can be a key teachable moment. What values and principles could you teach them through this? By planning a little bit ahead of the conversation, you can ensure your message is clearly communicated. Make sure to match your response to your child’s level of development. How you talk to a 6-year-old will be different than how you talk to a 15-year-old. Simple language can be used with younger children. A longer more detailed discussion can be reserved for older children in the absence of younger children who may become overwhelmed. Your children may need to talk about what they are hearing and feeling for a number of days in order to process the implications. Just remember the take-home message and feeling, and focus on it. How you talk and reassure them can make a difference! Use these resources on how to talk to children about tragedies or about shootings.
This tragic event, just like any other life experience, is an opportunity to connect with our children. It provides us with a chance to share our beliefs and values and to exemplify resilience. This is a moment to learn together that when we face hurdles and challenges, we persevere and continue the work. This also serves as an opportunity to develop a sense of grit and shape our youth into moral and successful adults who can deal with adversity and become stronger as a result. Building resilience begins with strengthening our relationship with our children. As parents, our relationship with them can help them navigate the difficult road ahead. Be present, be involved, and connect with your child on a regular basis. Help facilitate their growth through their everyday experiences.
They may share negative thoughts and worries. Help them maintain a balanced perspective. Make sure you educate yourself about the actual implications and do not rely purely on how the media is portraying the information. Do your homework and gain a sense of control.
It is possible that despite your reassurance, your child might not want to talk about their concerns. That is okay. If they are unable to or refuse to open up to you, suggest other adults who can help them. Also consider teen helplines such as Stones to Bridges, Amala Hopeline, Naseeha or the Khalil Center Helpline. At the very least, let them know that help exists.
Keeping the Faith – Spiritual Reminders
As parents, we need to model strength in identity and faith. Be proud of your faith identity and convey this message to your children. Research shows that children whose parents transmit information, values, and perspectives about their cultural and religious heritage, which includes having a discussion about obstacles they may face because of the group they belong to, are less negatively affected by discrimination. These discussions should be developmentally appropriate depending on your child’s age. For younger children, this may include messages of pride while for older children the discussion may also include talk about the possible discrimination they face in school and greater society.
“Holding fast to the rope of Allah” is key during times like these and looking to the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a family can help ease some of the anxiety you might be feeling collectively. Here are some reminders to help you remember when at times it may be easy to forget.
We must first remind ourselves and our children that Allah is in full control over everything. This is a cornerstone of our faith.
There is Work to be Done – Channel the Energy
Children who feel helpless about a situation can end up feeling cynical and angry. However, when they feel there is something, anything, they can do to make a difference, they feel empowered.
When speaking with your child, brainstorm the different situations they are worried about and identify different ways they can choose to react. Rehearse until your child is comfortable. Be your child’s role model. Show them through your actions, educate them through resources available in the community and online, Specifically focus on the following:
Advocate for Your Child at School
If you haven’t already, consider being proactive about being your child’s advocate at school. It is much better to have an established relationship with your child’s school’s administrators and teachers than to have to only approach them after an incident occurs.
Resources for Community Organizers and Religious Leaders
Keep on Marching
These events stay in our collective memory. They may cause some very real frustration and anxiety, and even change the course of your plans. However, they are also teachable and character-building moments to reinforce within ourselves and within our children why we are doing what we are doing. As parents, it is important for us to practice self-care. Avoid overstimulation by constantly checking your news-feeds. This will likely raise your anxiety levels which children will likely pick up on. As a parent and as a family, connect with communities that provide spaces for encouragement, support, and understanding and serve a healing purpose.
Finally, remember, we are doing everything for the pleasure of Allah, the Most High. He is in full control and is the best of planners. We are being tested to see how we will react. We must hold fast to our principles and values, and continue the work that we need to be doing to improve our nation.
Contributors to this article included: Wahida Abaza, MD; Sarrah AbuLughod, MA; Sameera Ahmed, Ph.D.; Sawssan Ahmed, Ph.D.; Alaa Mohammad, BA; Kameelah Rashad, M.Ed, MRPYC; Nadeem Siddiqi, Ph.D; and Eram Uddin, MA.
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