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Talking to your child during stressful times

Many of us are struggling to understand what is happening in our society and our children may have questions we aren’t able to answer. That does not mean you don’t need to talk about the current events as talking can help reduce feelings of anxiety and helplessness. The following resources are intended to empower you to talk with your child(ren) about the traumatic events that are occurring. If you require additional supports, do not hesitate to reach out to other trusted supports such as your school counselor or therapist.  

Talking to your child during times of stress

  • Take care of yourself. Really. You and your feelings matter.
  • Your child will take their cues from you so be aware that you are presenting what you want them to see. Just as they share in your moments of joy, they will also share in your pain. Please be sure that you don’t give them more of your pain than they can manage as they may have their own.
  • Allow your child the choice to opt out of any discussions related to this incident. Not all are in the same place with their feelings.

How to engage in conversation

  • “It sounds like you are sad” (angry, confused, frustrated, etc).” (affirming feelings)
  • If your child asks you a question it is okay to say that you don’t know the answer. You can look for the answer together.
  • “It’s hard when we don’t know all the facts.” (truth telling but not stating more than we’re able to tell)
  • “There are a lot of ways to feel and they are all okay.” Sometimes you might feel one way and then you might feel another way later on.
  • “There is no one right way to feel or to act.”
  • “What would you like to do right now (who would you like to talk to) that might help?”

Supporting by listening through grief, loss, or other strong emotions

Most often, what people want most is someone to talk to about their experience:

  • Someone to care
  • Someone to really listen
  • Someone to lean on or cry with
  • How to let people know you are listening
  • Actively listen when someone needs to talk: turn toward the speaker, speak calmly, listen more than speak, summarize, reflect.
  • Make eye contact if appropriate.
  • Listen more, talk less.
  • Your compassionate presence is more important than your words.
  • Try not to interrupt.
  • Label, summarize, and mirror the feelings the other person is expressing.
  • Do ask questions to clarify.

Things NOT to say

  • I know how you feel. (But it’s okay to say, “I feel sad too.”)
  • Let’s talk about something else.
  • You should work toward getting over this.
  • You are strong enough to deal with this.
  • You’ll feel better soon.
  • You need to relax.

Also, don’t judge. Questions like “Why?” and “Why not?” and evaluating the worth of what someone else did or didn’t do don’t help.

Student behaviors to watch for

Students may show some of these behaviors immediately or days, weeks, or even months after an incident. If these behaviors persist, talk to a trusted support such as your doctor, school counselor, or therapist.

  • Shock/denial
  • Restlessness, anger, aggressive behavior
  • Sleeping or eating difficulties
  • Headaches, tummy aches, body aches
  • Withdrawal
  • Sadness, tearfulness
  • Poor concentration
  • Unexpected fears and worries
  • Acting younger than their age
  • School avoidance

More resources for supporting students

Resources collected by Osseo Area Schools staff

National PTA

Edutopia