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How to Talk to Kids about the Barcelona Terror Attack: Tips & Scripts Included

credit: CBS

Just as we are trying to make sense of the loss, heartache and anger of what happened in Charlottesville, we are faced, again, with another act of terror in Barcelona. While adults are reeling, our children will likely have concerns and questions about what has just occurred. Here are some tips, conversation starters and scripts you can use to help talk about this terrible incident with your kids:

  1. Be their first source: I know this is hard as we don’t always know what to say to our children when scary things happen. But information is best coming from a trusted source—and that trusted source is you. You know your child and know how to be sensitive to the way your child needs to receive it. These details may have already started to leak out so it’s best not to wait. While you can limit gruesome details based on age and maturity, you can provide the information your children need to know to feel cared for and safe.

    You can say: “Someone who has hate in their heart and is angry and confused about what is right, kind and fair, hurt a lot of people in Barcelona, a city in Spain, which is in Europe. A lot of people are very upset right now but the people in charge are doing everything they can to keep people safe.”

    2. Let them know about the helpers: When situations seem unsure, children need to know that the grown-ups are helping those in need. Kids become very nervous that they will be left on their own if something bad happens and some anxiety can be alleviated by being sure that someone is in charge of safety.

    You can say: “Authorities are working to keep people safe. The police have already found the person who caused the harm to the people in Barcelona. Medical staff, like doctors and nurses, are helping those who have been hurt.”

    3. Let them know they are safe and these incidents are very rare: While tragedy recently struck Charlottesville, this does not mean that fatal acts of hate and terror are happening all the time. What are the kids thinking right now? They are thinking about their own safety and the safety of those they love. My daughter asked, when we spoke about the sad and angering act of hate in Charlottesville, “Is this going to happen here?”

    You can say: “These kinds of incidents are extremely rare, my love, and the people in charge are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe.”

    4. Stay calm: You are human. It is normal and natural to feel angry, sad, shocked or even numb when senseless acts occur. As a parent, teacher or child mentor, being “there” for young people sometimes means keeping our emotions in check so that we don’t overwhelm or alarm our children. While you certainly don’t need to be stoic or aloof—and you can talk about your sad or angry feelings when terror attacks happen—the full gravity of your feelings should be reserved for other trusted adults in your life.

    You can say: “It makes me feel very sad and angry when I hear that someone who has hate in their heart hurts other people. It’s not right or fair. How do YOU feel about it?”

    5. Expect that questions may not all come out at once: Children often need time to process information—especially information that is upsetting, confusing or surprising. It’s normal for children to have questions about sensitive topics over time. It may go on for weeks—a question here and a question there—never lasting more than a minute or two. Other times you may have a few longer conversations. Children process tough topics in different ways. It’s OK if you don’t know the answer— you can always tell your children that you will look up the answer and get back to them when you know. It’s also completely OK to say “I don’t know” when the answer is not answerable. Be a source of comfort—and know when your child has had enough.

    You can say: “I’m happy to answer your questions. What do you want to know?” And “I’m really not sure of the answer to that question right now, but I will look it up and get you the answer.” Or “I wish I knew for sure that this kind of thing will never happen again. What I do know is that the person who did it was captured by the authorities and can no longer hurt anyone.”

    6. Remain open to dealing with fears and concerns: Don’t be surprised if fears and concerns seem illogical, disconnected and come at unusual times. You might be driving your child to school on a beautiful sunny day when your child pops a question about something that happened days or even weeks before. Your child may develop a temporary fear of the dark, loud noises, people in uniform or otherwise while trying to regain their footing. Be patient and open to talking, reassuring and even just “there” during these tough times. This is tough for everyone.

    You can say: “Is there something I can do to help you feel safer or more secure?” or “Would you like advice or would you prefer that I just listen?”

    7. Know that unusual conduct or feelings may arise: Sometimes frightening and unexpected news can make children act out different ways. These behaviors may surprise you. Some kids may become clingy or hyper while others may become withdrawn and quiet. Some may sleep more while others may sleep less. Still others may eat more while others may report that they aren’t hungry.

    You can say: “Would you like to talk about your feelings? I am always here to listen. Your emotions are all OK and what you feeling is normal when bad things happen. You can feel any way that you do

    8. Don’t stop living: It is natural to want to protect your family when bad things happen. You may be wishing that you want to construct a bubble for everyone you love to live in just to keep potential dangers out. I get it. I’m a parent too. But living in fear is no way to live. Instead, enjoy everyday. Love deeper. Hug longer. And remember, there is more good than bad in the world.

    You can say: “I am so grateful for you. And I’m thankful for all those who work around the clock to keep us safe and healthy. Would you like to talk about why you are grateful today? What have you been able to do today because there are wonderful people who help us stay safe?”

    (9) Focus on the good: And don’t forget to remind your children of the good in the world. There are everyday people doing wonderful things. We don’t always hear about them, but there are. There are people who are solving medical mysteries and there are people who are building schools and helping children in need.

    You can say: “There are kids, just like you, helping the new child at school, talking to the scared friend on the bus, standing up to someone who is being unkind and giving a hug to a friend who is feeling sad. You do many kind things to help others. What have you done to help someone today? How did someone else help you?”

    (10) Allow them to contribute: People often remind kids to look for the helpers in this world—and that is a wonderful strategy. But just as important is to allow your child to find a way to be helpful. Instead of blocking out the world, let us teach our children to become the kind of people that make this world a better place. Children thrive when they feel that they can contribute to their family, their community, their country and beyond. Encourage them to do that. They may even be able to help the people of Barcelona as the charities who are providing assistance emerge. By doing so, you will teach them that there is a lot more good in this world than there is evil. And, yes, they are a big part of that good. In other words, they don’t just need to look for the helpers, they can become them.

    You can say; “How can we be helpful to someone who is suffering today?”

    This is a tough time but let’s keep the path of communication open. It is a source of connection and love—and lord knows we need more of that right now.

Thinking of Barcelona and all those who are grieving losses due to hate or terror attacks right now.

xo

How One Child Changed My Perspective about Conversations with Kids

The summer before college, I was in my first year of assistant teaching at a Preschool/DayCare in Livingston NJ. I always loved playing with and working with children- I had been a babysitter for 6 years at that point. I felt pretty good about being the “big sister” to young kids- especially since I was the youngest at home. Teaching allowed me to impart knowledge and work with and talk with kids for several hours a day. But during this summer? I learned something from one child that changed my perspective on talking with children.

I will never forget 4-year-old, “Sasha Washa,” a daughter of a suit-wearing, well quaffed, beautifully-spoken woman who dropped Sasha off each morning before heading off to the company where she worked all day. Sasha had dark brown hair and inquisitive brown eyes that was always taking in what she sees. And I guess hears too. She clearly adopted the language that her mother used at work. Parents and other key adults, often provide the scripts that go into our brains and out our mouths as youngsters.

When Sasha’s friend wouldn’t let her play “house” with the group that was already given roles, she walked up to me and said something I will always remember;

“Excuse me, Miss Robyn? Can we take a meeting?”

A meeting. A meeting is when people share ideas, talk, listen, resolve, compromise and plan.

At that time, I think that my personal understanding of children, especially young ones, was that adults do the teaching. Children do the listening.

In this one sentence (and the countless “meetings” after with children I’ve worked with and my own nieces, nephews and children), I began to regard my interactions with children, even pre-school aged ones, as two-way conversations. It’s important to move from talking “at” children to talking “to” and “with” them.

We want to know:

  • What are thinking?
  • What are they feeling?
  • What do they know?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What do they want YOU to know?
  • What had they seen?
  • What had they heard?
  • What do they believe?

Conversations are shared. If we are talking “at” a child, they aren’t a participant, they are a target. And with targets, some information is absorbed, other bits bounce off. One voice is heard– although your voice may start to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher “whaaa, whaaa, whaa, whaaa, whaa.” When someone is engaged in conversation, two voices, multiple opinions, many thoughts, and a host of feelings and beliefs meet and intertwine. We must create a partnership with our children– and in doing so we will all grow, learn and become better.

Of course, gone are days of seen but not heard. And yet, is this reflected in the way that we all talk with children? There are times when we all may find ourselves in a teaching role– but in every conversation, we also must be the student. Take meetings, don’t give soliloquies. You’ll find willing partners who will love to contribute and learn along side of you.

Happy New Year: New Annoucement!

Hello sweet friends and colleagues!

USNews iconHappy New Year! I wanted to share some exciting news with you today. U.S. News and World Report has asked me to be a monthly contributor to their brand new parenting section of their publication. Here it my very first article, all about setting goals with children, that came out yesterday.

It it, I talk about the importance of not only making goals S.M.A.R.T. with children– but S.M.A.R.T.E.R! Check it out!!

As you can imagine, I’m already hard at work on February’s article—all about impulse control and children. With two young children, I have definitely been put to the test in that area—you?

I’ll be thrilled to share some other projects with you that I’m working on as they are completed. My hope is that you’ll be as pumped about them as I am!

Until then, I hope you have a wonderful end to your week!

Warmest regards,

Dr. Robyn

When Children Ask: How Can Trump Be President When He’s Been So Mean?

How Can Trump Be President When He’s Been So Mean? And Other Questions Children Are Asking After the Trump Victory

If you were to ask my children what phrase I repeat most, aside from “I love you,” they would likely reply; “Be kind and thoughtful.” Being a mother and a Child Development Specialist, building character is woven into the fabric of both my professional and personal life.

This morning, my 7-year-old daughter asked me, “But how can Trump win when he’s been so mean? Will he be mean like that as president?”

Perhaps you are having similar questions asked of you at home. After all, we spend much of our children’s childhoods talking to them about being kind, putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, thinking before we speak angry, cruel or ugly words. We also tell them that you catch more flies with honey, good people finish first and lift others up rather than tear them down.

It’s a confusing time. So how do we answer our children’s questions?

(1) Am I safe?

Children often worry about their safety first—especially when they see so many adults upset about the outcome of an event or election. Reassure them; “We are safe. Many adults work around the clock to keep us safe. I am working to keep you safe and so are your teachers. But even people you can’t see are working to keep you safe. We will be okay, even though there are many people upset and frustrated right now.”

(2) So he gets to make all the choices?

Children often view a president as the sole authority figure who gets to make all the choices. So tell them; “In America, one person does not get to make all the decisions. There are many people, with lots of education and experience, who work together with the president to make the best choices for our nation.”

(3) But what about all the things he said?

Donald Trump offended many people. Yes, even presidential candidates make mistakes. It’s okay to be disappointed in what he said. Just as he wants change for the country, he will need to work on changing the way he speaks and thinks about our diverse America. He will need to focus on making all Americans, no matter what the color of their skin, who they love or how they prey, feel represented and important over his presidency. As you know, America is about unity and justice for all. Mr. Trump has a lot of work to do and he says that he will work hard to be everyone’s president. Let us root for him to be the person he needs to be as president.”

(4) Doesn’t this tell everyone that people can be mean and still get to be president?

Discuss your values. Say; “It is not right to make other people feel inferior or insignificant. What Mr. Trump said about many people was not right. We do not feel he should talk in a mean way about others who are different from him. In our family, we believe in treating others with kindness and empathy. Our friends and family also believe in treating people with kindness and empathy. As president, we will hope that Mr. Trump will lead with character as he leads this country. In the mean time, you continue to be the good-hearted person you are, fight for what you believe is right (as we will too) and we will support you every step of the way.”

(5) Why did people vote for someone who said such mean things?

Most people did not like the way Trump spoke about women, minorities, immigrants, those who were disabled and other communities. Still, many people voted for Trump. Explain to your children; “While many people did not like the way Mr. Trump spoke to and about others who were different from him, many people were angry and wanted change. They didn’t like the way the country was being run. They felt they were overworked and underpaid. They believe that Donald Trump, since he has built a lot of buildings and had a lot of success in business, can make America work better.

(6) Is Donald Trump a bad person?

We can tell our children; “We must look for that good, align ourselves with that good and see that good in people, even when they have made bad choices. There are many good people who work in our government—many, many good people. They will stand up and say what is right. We know of Donald Trump from TV and from this election but we don’t know everything about him. We need to look for the good in him and pray that he shows that good to the world as he will represent our country. We can not focus on being fault-finders, but rather, strength-finders as we get to know Donald Trump.”

(7) Is America going to be okay?

No American wants to see America fail. “We will be okay. America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have a rich history and amazing opportunities here in America. We are profoundly fortunate people even as we fight for what is right for all. We have much to give and contribute to this world. We will keep hope, keep believing, keep working and keep fighting for what is right, good, fair and necessary. Americans don’t give up!”

For many Americans who voted differently, there will be a grieving time. That’s okay. It’s normal to be frustrated, disappointed, angry or sad. Your children may reflect these sentiments back to you. Support them and be kind to yourself too.

For many Americans, this will be a time of reflection. Many people wanted to celebrate the first woman president and the sound of the glass ceiling breaking. They wanted to share it with their children. They wanted to share it with their mothers, their grandmothers, their Aunts and their sisters. There was hope. And while there is sadness, there still must be hope.

Finally, remember; a “Big Talk” with our children is really a series of many discussions that happen over time. Keep the door open, stay available for questions and feel free to say; “I don’t know.” And if you don’t like the way the conversation goes the first time, know there is always time for revision—to try again—and to even change your point of view. Sometimes, change can be good. In America, right now, we are counting on that.