How to Help Children Feel Comfortable Expressing Their Feelings

The past two years have been unrelenting — first with the ongoing pandemic, and now, the war in Ukraine and rising cost of living — bringing on higher levels of stress and fear. Parents, who themselves are stressed and overwhelmed with information, seek support for how to help their children’s anxiety. With easier access to newsfeeds through social media, children can be exposed to images of violence, which can cause concern.

Having conversations about current and emerging crises is important. It’s daunting, but parents need guidance on how to start. Creating an open dialogue is critical to help children process emotion, whether this time or the next.

[Read: Helping Your Child Overcome Social Anxiety.]

Why Conversations About Crises Matter

Children and teens need to know they can talk about difficult topics with their parents for several reasons:

“Name it to tame it.” Even if it doesn’t change the situation, being able to talk about feelings and worries openly can help children feel better. Parents can check in with their kids regularly and be curious about their children’s thoughts on the world. When that conversation happens, parents should try to remember to respond first with validation. After that validation, parents can then initiate a discussion or educate, but that initial reaction is vital to help children feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Correct misinformation or disinformation. As we’ve seen in the past, misinformation and rumors can spread quickly on social media, and to other digital platforms. Younger children also tend to have active imaginations, so maybe they hear part of a news segment on the radio and their mind creates a story around it that causes them distress. That’s why asking children what they’ve heard is important so adults can correct anything that might be misconstrued.

An opportunity to teach compassion. It’s natural to want to help. Children may ask, “Is there anything we can do?” This is a sentiment parents should foster because it not only teaches empathy but also how to see situations from another perspective. Parents and their children can work together as a family to find ways to be a part of the solution.

[Read: How Major Traumatic Events Can Impact Your Long-Term Health.]

How Can Parents Start the Conversation About Crises?

Children will have different levels of understanding, so keep in mind the age and temperament when speaking to them.

Younger children under the age of 5. Use simple language. A lot of detail is not going to be helpful, and it can add to the confusion. Visuals can be an effective tool. In the case of Ukraine, maybe bring out a map of the world and show your child where we are and where Ukraine is located. Then, consider how the child has reacted to negative news before. For instance, if they get anxious easily, limiting information more is better.

School-age children and adolescents. Have an age-appropriate dialogue because they’ve most likely heard about what’s happening on some level — either from social media, school, friends or from overheard conversations between adults. You can check in with them, starting the conversation with something like, “What have you heard?” And then maybe following that up with, “What do you think about what’s going on? How are you feeling?” It’s okay not to have all the answers about a particular crisis. If that is the case, work as a family to find out more information.

As parents, try to remember that when children do communicate their thoughts to respond first with validation. Then, parents can have an honest conversation to correct any misunderstandings and have a discussion.

With all children, parents should let them know they care for them and will do whatever they can to keep them safe.

[Read: Low-Cost Therapy Options for Every Budget.]

Seek Support for Your Child, If Needed

In general, parents should monitor how much exposure to media or images children have — whether that is limiting how often the news is on TV or social media usage. Parents should also be aware children can be impacted by observing their parents. So, if adults are having an emotional conversation, maybe go for a walk and have that talk outside.

Even with mitigating efforts, children can still be affected, so it’s important to know the signs of childhood anxiety:

Trouble sleeping at night.

— Clingy behaviors.

— Difficulty focusing.

— School avoidance.

— Changes in appetite.

— Changes in their interests (beyond what they would typically enjoy).

If parents are worried the symptoms show significant distress, reach out to the child’s pediatrician.

More from U.S. News

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12 Ways to Help a Loved One Grieve

Tips to Support Someone Having a Panic Attack

How to Help Children Feel Comfortable Expressing Their Feelings originally appeared on usnews.com

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