I have been seeing a lot of children and adults responding negatively to current political tensions. A lot of my clients are feeling increased anxiety, fear and confusion; and parents are seeking information on how to communicate with their children about the current political issues. Children are so vulnerable, and we have to protect their little political minds. Here are some key pointers:
(1) Know your child. Some children are more sensitive then others, but generally speaking some symptoms to notice are irritability, difficulty sleeping, whining, inquisitive, inappropriate in behavior or communication, hypervigiliant, or even avoidant. Seeing any changes in behaviors is an indicator that your child may be responding to something, and needs your time and attention.
(2) Be honest and transparent. There is a popular belief that if something is not discussed with children, then they will forget or not further inquire. This is false! Just because you do not tell your child something does not mean they are not forming an opinion. Ask them what their concerns are, and be as honest in answering. This helps to decrease anxiety, and allows you to continue to cultivate the morals and values of your child through open communication.
(3) Talk about current issues. Children are not dumb! Information is very readily available and over saturated through media and peers. Please do not open your child for misinformation. Illustrate that you are a parent, guardian or loving adult in their life that can be trusted. Children, no matter the age, want to feel respected and taken seriously. They are blank canvases, and are eager to paint. Keep them up to date so that they are aware and can participate in society as an equal part. Make sure the communication is on their age level.
(3) Check yourself first. Do self-reflection on how you feel about current political issues before talking openly around children. They are absorbing all of your words, so impressionable. Children are not only blank canvases, but they are individuals that have to develop their own sense of self. Do not allow your discontent to spread to them, causing anxiety, fear and diminished self-esteem.
(4) Communicate in your normal voice. Children are so perceptive. They are more influenced by non-verbal communication, so the delivery is key. Talk as you normally do with your child, whether on the way home from school or while eating dinner. Make the conversation informal so they don't feel alarmed.
(5) Know the facts. As said before, we do not want children having misinformation. Be prepared for their questions, and be sure you understand the current events. Children are very inquisitive. Be patient!
(6) Refocus with words of hope, optimism and security. Remind them of who they are, their morals, values, and positive characteristics. Provide comforting words, and refocus on their priorities that are age appropriate. Give them a sense of consistency in spite of a changing an chaotic world. Empower them to be self-aware and true to themselves.