Parents and Teachers: How to Talk to Children about the Paris Attacks


How to Talk to Kids about the Paris Attacks and Other Tragic Events

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Many of us stayed up late watching everything we could about the tragic Paris Attacks on Friday night. We waited to find out more on Saturday about how many lives were lost, if the perpetrators were all captured and how France and other nations were going to respond.

As a mother of a 5 and 6 year old, I kept the news off while they were in the room and remember running up to the TV to turn it off when a Sunday morning story about the death toll suddenly came on—that’s not the way I want them to find out. Still, I don’t have my head in the sand. it’s important to be prepared to discuss these tragic situations as children hear a great deal in school and from their friends. And with older children in late elementary school, middle school or high school, they likely have head about it already.

How should parents handle it when a large-scale tragedy occurs in the world such as the Paris Attacks?

  • You are the trusted source: If you have a feeling that your children will hear about the tragedy in school, talk to them about it as soon as possible. You can give them the information that is true, appropriate and helpful. Older children might want to learn more about who was involved in the attacks- and there are some websites that provide easy-to-understand information that you can read together or you can read and then discuss the points that you feel are necessary. For example there is this and this for explanations of more complicated facts.
  • Use age-appropriate language and information: Children don’t need to hear the gory details. Give them the information that they need to know in words that they would understand. You can be factual without being gruesome. It is important to set the tone and provide the facts instead of allowing someone else, who may not be correct or appropriate, to do it for you.
  • Allow emotions and fears to surface: Don’t dismiss your children’s fears or emotions. Rather, allow them to have a safe place to express them. If you are upset (as humans, of course we are!), you can talk about being sad or frustrated without going into full detail or matching their intensity. For example, you can say; “I am sad this happened to these people” or “I am frustrated that I can’t help.” In fact, it’s best for adults to talk to other adults about their own feelings rather than delving in deep with children who may not be fully equipped yet to understand.
  • Let them know they are safe: Children are often concerned with their own safety and the safety of their friends and family surrounding them. Make sure they know that events such as these are rare. Talk to them about the adults in this world who are doing what they can to keep the people safe. Discuss the helpers, the heroes and those who are taking action to create peace in this world.
  • Keep an open door: Many children will need more than one conversation to put their questions, fears and concerns to rest. Let your children know that you are available to talk to them if they have questions. You may not know all the answers, but you will do your best to find them out or explore them with your child. For older children, don’t assume that they fully know what’s going on or that you know what they are thinking or feeling. Ask them what they know and how they feel about it. If you feel that there is a better person for your children to talk to about this tragedy, be the bridge or the passageway to the right person so your children feel that their questions have been answered.
  • Honor the loss of life: Whether the tragedy was Sandy Hook, The Boston Marathon bombing or the Paris Attacks, find ways to honor those who were lost. This may be orchestrated through a moment of silence, a family donation or finding ways to help personally.
  • Understand that children all react differently: Some children will want to talk about what’s happening while others might clam up. Some will have lots of questions, while others might seem disinterested. All children react differently. Be aware of hidden signs that a child is upset. For example, sleeping more or having trouble sleeping, withdrawing from friends or wanting to spend more time with family, acting out with poor behavior or wanting to stay home from school. Be open if and when your children become open to talking about the Paris Attacks or tragic events like them.

The best thing we can do for our children is to give them the time, space and arena to discuss their feelings and questions. Just being there can be a comfort when tragedies like the Paris Attacks, the Boston bombing, Sandy Hook occur. And of course, as always, hug them tight and tell them that they are loved. Feeling safe and secure can go a long, long way.

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THAT moment in the bathroom with your daughter

Dr. Robyn with her baby girlWe all get that feeling that we are messing up our children sometimes. I do too. Often…if I’m being honest.

I look back to when we first took our daughter home from the hospital and remember my husband and I looking at each other and wondering how in the world they let us take her.  We had no idea what we were doing!

And there are days, with both our children, that we still feel the same way. Do you feel that way too sometimes?

But as much as we think we are messing up at times, it’s also very likely, we are doing something VERY right.  Never forget how powerful you are.  Our children are taking in our words.  They are watching our actions.  They are adopting our values. And it does make a difference.

Everyday, there are opportunities to shape our children.  Of course, it’s what we do overtime that makes a lasting impact.  And sometimes, we DO get it right. And sometimes, we even get a chance to realize it.

Last night– I had THAT MOMENT in the bathroom while brushing teeth with my daughter:

T, age 6: “Mommy; am I beautiful?” Read more

zayn malik

Tips on Helping Teen Fans Deal with saying Goodbye to Zayn Malik from One Direction

One Direction: This Is Us - World Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals, Zayn Malik

As you can imagine, I have been receiving calls and emails this morning from the press asking me to provide tips on “the loss of Zayn Malik” from One Direction.  At first glance, I thought he might have died and quickly looked up the story so I could comment effectively.  But he didn’t die– he is simply leaving the group to move in a different direction– one away from his One Direction life.  In fact, he declared that he wanted to live as a “normal 22 year old.”

Fans have reacted with everything from well wishes to anger to depression to extreme frustration and sadness.  Why?

Social media and reality shows allow fans to have an all-access pass to watching and experiencing the growth, hopes and successes of their favorite stars over time. These young celebrities start out just like their fans in many ways– unknown and hopeful.  Involved fans root for their favorite unknowns, cheer for them and even vote for Read more


Pros and Cons of Children in Sports: Dr. Robyn Silverman on The Today Show

The Today Show brought me on today to kick off a series on children and sports along side football player, Greg Jennings!

What are some of the benefits that children gain from playing sports?

There are so many reasons why sports are great for kids, from the obvious physical reasons to learning social skills to lowering the probability of engaging in risky behavior like drug abuse. But one of my favorite benefits of sports and one I love to present about to children and adults—is that sports can help develop character and grit in children—teaching them to set goals, go after them, overcome barriers and showing them that if these kids dig deep, they have what it takes to achieve those goals.

There are so many pressures placed on the parents and the kids. If you want your child to be the best, you need to get the private coaches or you need to have them practice five days per week. At what point is enough, enough?

First, I think one of the key phrases we need to illuminate here is “if YOU want your child to be the best.” Children have to be as invested (or more) in their particular sport as their parents are or “enough is enough” is going to come way too quickly. Sports are about the children and the team, rather than the parents’ goals. Read more

Good Morning America with Dr. Robyn Silverman and Lara Spencer

Cyberbullying and teens: What we learn when Iggy Azalea unplugs from social media due to haters

Good Morning America with Dr. Robyn Silverman and Lara SpencerGood Morning America brought me into the studio to talk to Lara Spencer this morning (video) about Iggy Azalea, her departure from social media, and what her experience with haters might tell us about cyberbullying.  Let’s discuss!

Should people just give up on social media if they’re having these kinds of problems?

Whether social media is for you or not is a very personal decision.

If you are a celebrity with millions of fans or a non-celebrity, you may encounter the occasional troll who aims to provoke you. It can be stressful and upsetting. So if these interactions are influencing how you feel about yourself or how you go about your day to day life, the internet may not be a healthy space for you. If, however, you feel that interacting with your fans or those who know you and love you is worthwhile and outweighs the cons, continue on but know that if you are dealing with an actual cyberbullying situation (i.e. sexually explicit messaging, hate crime language, threats), you must document it and report it.

How can you avoid online haters?  

You have several choices. You can: Read more

Shouting Loud

Parenting Confession: 5 Ways to Stop Mommy and Daddy Tantrums

Shouting Loud

If you stopped me on the street and challenged me to come up with the top rule in my household, I would likely say; “Kind thoughts, kind words, kind actions.” Having a 4 ½ year old boy and an almost 6 year old girl, just 16 months apart and often wildly competitive with one another, necessitates having to repeat these words often.

As a child development specialist and professional speaker, of course I am supposed to live these words daily. And I try. I believe that my friends and family would say that I am kind-hearted and loving. But there are moments that I disappoint myself, as many mothers and fathers would likely admit, if not in public at least in the privacy of their own heads.

Have I upheld my top value? Have I been truly kind today?

We all lose our cool. Children whine and push our buttons. They fight and ignite frustration in us as we are trying to cook dinner, clean up and simultaneously give baths and kiss our spouses hello. Or try to kiss our spouses hello. Or honestly, maybe just think about acknowledging our spouses as they enter the home. Or maybe we can’t even do that.

For me, the frustration is cumulative. I have days when I give myself a pat on the back for taking a breath, centering myself and responding to my children as they jump on the couch one more time, push their sibling once again or talk rudely for the umpteenth time with a calm, kind, encouraging prompt; “try again, my sweet.”

But there are other days, usually after a nice long string of commendable ones, where I just crack in half like a twig and all that I’ve held together, all I’ve been praising myself for, comes oozing out in a toxic stream of yelling, or worse, grabbing my child and yelling; “No!” (and Read more


QUESTION: Is it Fair for Kids to Make Wreaths and Ornaments in Public School?

People talk about it often. Separate of church and state.  And around the holidays, the lines become garbled.  Holiday concerts. Arts & Crafts projects. Holiday shopping. Given this yearly situation, my friend, who happens to be Jewish, posted a question yesterday on her personal Facebook page, that garnered 85 heated comments as answers:

Does it bother anyone else that in public school the kids are making wreaths and ornaments? Am I being too sensitive? I am so tired of fighting the same fight.

So…what do you think? Read more


Is Elephant Parenting or Tiger Parenting Right for You?

Should you be more like an Elephant or more like a Tiger when it comes to parenting?  I was on Good Morning America this morning to talk about parenting styles and what’s best for Moms, Dads and their children.

Is Elephant Parenting a good approach for parents to take versus the more strict disciplinarian “Tiger Mom”?

The elephant mom style is one grounded in the belief that children, above all, need to be nurtured and protected, especially while very young versus the ultra strict “do it now, get it done, get it right” approach of the tiger mom. Which approach is best to use? The truth is that every child is different and children need different approaches as they grow. There are moments that call for both approaches but most of our best parenting is more nuanced and falls somewhere in between.

Remember; there is no perfect way to parent and there is no “one” type of child. When I’m presenting to parents I tell them, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being present. Your child will need different approaches from you at different times.

Do you think people can get too focused on adhering to a particular style of parenting?

I feel that when people become so focused on one particular parenting approach—especially when it falls so far into the extreme, we can miss some opportunities to provide our children with exactly what they need and what we frankly believe is the right thing to give. A parenting philosophy can guide you but my belief is that most children need a soft place to land when things go wrong and most children need a nudge in the right direction when they’re not giving their all or with something new. We need to really tune in and listen to our children and tune in and listen to our gut—and where those converge is the sweet spot of parenting.

And you say parents shouldn’t worry too much about “screwing up” their kids, right?

Everyone is going to screw up. Again, it’s about being present, not perfect. But the best thing? If we mess up, parenting provides opportunities for do-overs. So don’t despair! If you don’t like how you handled a particular parenting situation, do something different the next time.

What approach do YOU think is best?  I’d love to hear from you here, on Facebook or on Twitter!

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Dr. Robyn and Robin Roberts on GMA October 2014

Am I Like-able? Teens, Self Esteem and the Number of Likes They Get on Social Media

How much do YOU “unlike” like?

I was recently on Good Morning America talking to Robin Roberts about how social media has become a constant part of the teen world. Teens are learning that the number of likes they receive is equivalent to how likable, popular and worthy that they are. While it shouldn’t be about quantity, but rather quality, given that many of these likes come from people these kids barely even know, when it comes to social media, it’s a numbers game—the more likes you receive, the better these teens feel.

More ABC US news | ABC Health News

Welcome to the 100 club— the exclusive club invented for those teens who’ve received 100 or more likes on a social media photo or post. Getting the most likes is the new extreme sport. The need for likes and getting an “in” to the 100 club makes a competitive sport out of social media- where the trophy is the privilege of saying you are in an exclusive club—which is not attainable for all.

Teens are at a time in life when they want to fit in and feel the approval of peers, getting likes is an immediate, albeit flawed way, of finding out “am I worthy, am I popular and am I likeable?” Getting likes fits our immediate push-button culture and the need for immediate feedback and gratification even if it’s from people that our kids don’t know well. Not getting the likes, the positive feedback, can feel like a slap in the face and a blow to the self esteem—not good enough. You see the number of likes, but so does everyone else. It’s easy for them to wonder; am I like-able enough?

Now what?

When presenting to teens and parents on this topic, here are two of the takeaways I provide:

First, break the like habit. Ask your teen, what are you hoping for when you post that photo? If the sole reason to post is to garner likes, you may have a slippery slope as it’s a self esteem trap. Make sure your teen is getting out and about, face to face with 3D people- through sports, drama club, martial arts, dance, cheer so they can get away from the likes, set meaningful goals and feel significant achievement.

Second, send a clear message to your teens that it’s who you are– not your number of likes that make you worthy. Social media can be a self esteem trap.  Teens may believe it all comes down to numbers when it’s really about quality of connections with your true supporters, how you feel about yourself and the gifts you contribute to the world.

A final word:

Don’t forget– the example we set is also vital to our children.  Many adults will go through their days, heads down and eyes buried into their phones, looking at how their posts fair on their social media pages.  It’s easy to get caught into the same trap at their children.  We must keep it all in perspective while acknowledging that everyone likes to get a pat on the back or a high five– even if it’s virtual.

Just for fun:

Taylor Swift and Dr. Robyn SilvermanAfter my segment on Good Morning America, I ran into Taylor Swift in the elevator!  What a fun, happy treat.  I posted the selfie of us and you know what?  I received the most likes I ever got.  Ironic given the segment topic!

Here’s to you!

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Mom Leaves Child in Car for Five Minutes and is Charged with Misdemeanor

ABC US News | ABC International News

Kim Brooks left her child in the car for 5 minutes to run into a store and get her child a pair of ear phones.  Her four year old son stayed in the locked car, the windows cracked on a mild day because he didn’t want to go in with her.  It seemed harmless enough but someone was watching– and taping– the incident.  The video footage was turned into the police and Kim’s world was turned upside down for a while.  She was charged with a misdemeanor.

GMA_womanleaveschildWe see this happen all the time — parents leaving children in cars. Thank God it wasn’t a bad outcome for the child. What’s your take on this?

First of all, I feel for this woman. As parents, we juggle so much and we all have lapses in judgment but they are not all caught on tape. So we can debate whether we are too overprotective and how we were all left in the car when we were little and came out just fine but the truth is, we are under surveillance by everyone with a camera on their phone- welcome big brother, 1984. Since we have laws in many states that say it’s not ok to leave a child under 6 in a car alone, that means no matter what your personal view, even if you know in your heart it will be just fine, we have to follow it. It may just be caught on tape.

We also have to realize that while it may seem silly to have to take your child into a store for a 2 minute errand even if the car is only 10 yards away, we need a definitive line.  As Dan Abrams says in the piece, and I agree, how can we be arbitrary?  We can’t say it’s OK to go into a store for 5 minutes but not twelve or to be 10 yards away from the car but not 17.

I think this strikes a cord because so many of us have been in this situation– some may have even left their children in a car when they’ve run in to get their dry cleaning.  This could have happened to a lot of people– this woman is not unusual.

What do you suggest the mother should have done?

I’m a busy mom of a 4 and a 5 year old and believe me, it’s not always fun to bring them into stores. So there is no judgment from me. But here’s the thing: (1) we have to be able to tell our children, “I know you don’t like this, but it’s not a choice. You have to come with me.” And (2) as I’ve done before with a sick child, I left the doctor’s office and went to my local Pink’s pharmacy and had a sick, sleeping child in my back seat- I called them up from right in front of their door and said; can I give you my credit card over the phone and is it possible for you to meet me by my car, my child is sick.

As much as we live in these crazy times, we also live in times when people will help us out. I encourage parents to seek out their help.

*Remember; this is not a bad parent, this was just a lapse in judgment.  And really?  We’ve all had those.  Let’s wish her the best.

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