How to talk to kids after traumatic events
ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – After the tragedy in Texas, a lot of communities are forced to have difficult conversations with their children.
“Parents are kind of at a loss of what to say to their kids about something that’s unexplainable,” Rochester Poppins social media manager and parent Sammie Koppenhaver said. “So how do you talk to your kids about something that should have never happened in the first place?”
It’s a question parents across the country are now grappling with.
“Kids are just confused, scared, asking hard questions because they really don’t know what’s happening,” she said.
That’s part of the reason Rochester Poppins, a nanny agency, decided to share tips with the families it works with online.
“‘I’m really sad about this. What are you feeling or what do you think?’” Koppenhaver said. “And just let them talk to you about their thoughts.”
Mental health professionals say opening the conversation may be the most important part.
“It’s such a difficult conversation and it’s difficult for us as adults,” Ellie Mental Health Services Samantha Miller said. “So, explaining it to a kid is hard.”
Miller said parents know their kids better than anybody else, and how much you discuss with your child about traumatic events, can depend on their age and communication style.
“Talk to them about it. Keep an open dialogue,” she said. “This happened and if you want to talk about it, I’m here.”
Not every child will want to talk about it.
“Do your best to provide a space for them. To ask questions and communicate when they are ready,” Mayo Clinic child psychiatrist Dr. Paul Croarkin said. “Not every child is going to want to talk about it right away, and again, every person, every child has a unique communication style.”
Croarkin said to remain calm, honest and reassuring, but don’t force conversation.
“Sometimes kids just want you there, and they don’t want you to talk, but having you communicate the structure that you are there, is very critical and important,” he said.
Experts say to remember to take care of you, too.
“There’s a lot of hurt and struggle around it. So, having a community base and a place you can connect in and feel together at a time like this, is really important as well,” Rochester Poppins owner and operator Karine Kvam said.
“I think this is traumatic for everyone, and we want to keep that in mind, but also foster resiliency. Yes, we want to acknowledge these horrible things that happened, but as family we will get through this,” Croarkin said.
Last week, Olmsted County announced it’s investing nearly $1 million into mental health services for kids. It’s part of a project funded by the American Rescue Plan Act.
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