Tragic news stories like shootings in schools or public areas, kidnappings and war-violence can be quite scary for children. It can be extremely shocking when a child is suddenly faced with images of hurt people or the thought that there are meanies out there who do terrible things.
Parents can help teach children about the state of the world or what's happening nearby without causing undo stress on their systems. How children receive information about violent events can greatly affect their body's ability to process this information.
How To Help You AND Your Child Through Sad and Scary Times
The important things to remember for parents, teachers, and coaches regarding delivering information that might spark fear is to reduce the visuals, increase listening, and use words that are not emotionally charged.
Here are four suggestions to help your children learn about scary events without causing them undo stress:
Turn the TV and radio off when children are around. Child brains and vocabulary just can't handle this type of information - they don't understand enough about cause and effect. Most children feel the event they hear about through the media is directly happening to them. They also don't understand repeated footage so if a video of a violent event is being repeatedly shown on a screen, children believe the event is happening over and over again.
If there is a news story you would like more information about, you can go online to get the information, but please be aware that you, too, might be disturbed by some of the images you see.
If it happens that your younger child hears about a violent news story, be truthful but not scary. Do not lie. Try something like, "Something very tragic happened today and people are upset and scared because some people have died."
For teenagers, I would still turn the news off to avoid the burning of images in their mind, but gently introduce the news story as neutrally as you can. I know this will be tough, but try to keep them from getting caught up in speculation, judgment, or name-calling.
Provide information about the event with neutral language as I mentioned above, and then ask if your child has questions. Let your child lead you through what they need to hear.
Parents likely don't know what children have heard at school or around others so providing the child with an opportunity to explain what they have heard and asking questions they have is a great way to facilitate understanding.
Your children are continually watching how you handle things. If you grab the phone, sobbing, and exclaim, "What a monster!! How could someone do something like this?" (which might be what we are thinking), everyone around you will get worked up. Use all your tricks to calm yourself down, talking as little as possible about this event to others in front of children.
Events and images, particularly ones involving harm to children, are upsetting for most parents so it is okay that we feel sad, even cry, but try to not allow yourself to get into a frenzy.
For those children who do end up finding out about big violent news events, their parents need to be the voice of reason and security. Remind your children that they live in a safe country, and about all the things that are in place to help them be safe. Although these events get a lot of press time, they are actually quite rare.
This is a good time to discuss your family's emergency plan: what would you all do if communication or power was out? Where would you meet? Who else (nearby) can your children count on to help them when a crisis is happening?
Children often become clingier when they experience something stressful. Please give them as many hugs as they—and you—need to feel better. It is called "healing touch" for a reason.
* If your child has heard or seen more than he or she can process, and is having nightmares or has become overly anxious, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Most psychotherapy or counselling organizations have lists of people in your area.
For more info on helping your child understand and cope with violence and death, please check out these resources:
And finally, here is some wonderful and truly helpful advice from Mr. Rogers: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."
If you have a question about a specific event that is happening, I invite you to visit my Facebook page where I post up-to-date parenting information.
We hear the term “Positive Discipline” used frequently, but many parents are unsure exactly what this means, and why this form of discipline is the best for our kids.
The word discipline has origins in the Latin word disciplina, which means, “to teach.” Adapting this concept to raising children, I believe positive discipline means guiding, redirecting, and teaching our children in a way that opens them to be the best they can be. It’s like helping them grow the biggest set of wings possible.
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The outcomes of positive discipline are to improve self-control, respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, and to deepen relationships. Through the growth of these capabilities, the development of a moral and ethical life happens, too.
Did you notice that I didn’t say one of the outcomes is to “be happy” or “successful?” When we live a life armed with awareness, skills to help ourselves and others and a will to be kind and love deeply, there is a good chance the happy days will outnumber the sad and scary ones and we’ll pick a vocation in life that suits us.
Positive discipline does not mean becoming a parenting doormat. It means redirecting our children when they do something inappropriate in a way that keeps our relationship with them intact.
Specifically, positive discipline means to guide our children with limits, boundaries and teaching without growing negative core beliefs in the process.
In order for discipline to work, parents need to remember these twelve positive discipline strategies:
1. Connect first. Redirect second. Children need to feel they belong and they matter before we redirect their behaviour.
Your Child's Bad Behaviour Could Be Connected To This
2. Acknowledge emotions. Take time to experience, feel and identify the emotions in your children (and you, too).
3. Consider what needs your child is trying to meet. Ask yourself this question, “I wonder why my child did that?”
4. Be kind and firm. Deliver your instructions and boundaries without being sharp.
5. Be mindful of both immediate and long-term goals. How can you curb unwanted behaviour right now without growing relationship rifts or negative core beliefs down the road?
6. Teach the ways of the world and your house (social, life, safety skills). For example, what are the “away spots” for everyone’s belongings? What house jobs can each family member do to help pitch in? How do we use things in the house without damaging them?
7. Inspire problem solving. Involve your child when discussing, “Hmmm… What are our options now?”
8. Encourage capability. Don’t rush to rescue your children from struggles. The process of correcting mistakes, figuring something out and finally getting things right is a wonderful teacher/ motivator.
9. Reduce compromising states. Do your absolute best to reduce hunger, exhaustion, tiredness and over-stimulation. Everyone does better when they are full (spiritually, emotionally, and physically). Create space for rest, play and outside time.
10. Focus on what your child can do rather than what s(he) cannot. For example, turn “No! Stop running” into “Walking feet.”
11. Reel in the stinkin’ thinkin.’ Control your reptilian brain while helping your child to do the same (that’s called self-regulation). Don’t provoke the cobra!
12. Know when to get out of the way. Give your children space to find and use their own voice.
Notice the words “preach” or “lecture” or “nag” are not on this list! Actually, the best positive discipline often happens using the fewest number of words.
Using these twelve basic strategies, parents can use positive communication approaches to helping grow their child’s brains, bodies, and hearts. Those approaches are best explained with hands-on examples so I recommend looking at these books and Facebook pages for more information (click on the author’s names to see their Facebook pages):
No Drama Discipline by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD
Any of the Positive Discipline books by Jane Nelsen, PhD and her colleagues.
If I have to tell you one more time… by Amy McCready
Ain’t Misbehavin' by Alyson Schafer
Also my Facebook page where I post positive discipline tricks and tips every day.
When children do the things they naturally do, like push limits, ignore instructions, explore beyond their ability, or act inappropriately, it is our job as parents to redirect them to the behaviour that is acceptable.
While disciplining children, it is important for parents, teachers, and coaches to understand that how they do this redirection or teaching might have a lasting effect on the child. Something called negative core beliefs can grow in children when they start to believe their behaviour or the way the person disciplining them acts is as a result of who they are as people—that they are faulty.
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When something happens in life, a person interprets that event and tucks it away into categories of beliefs. These beliefs, called core beliefs, are based on deep-seated feelings we have about who we are, how people see us, how the world is, and what our future holds.
Our core beliefs create part of the lens through which we see and experience life. They affect how we interpret a situation—if we see the world with a glass half-empty or half-full.
Core beliefs are messages that we may or may not be aware of, which we come to believe as a result of our life experiences, innate disposition and/or cultural influences. When we go through something as a child, on a subconscious level we generate impressions of the world based on what has happened and how people treated us in that event. For example, a child who is raised by a father who continually explodes, shouts, and hits when he is angry might start to fear doing the wrong thing and also feel that being angry is scary.
These types of generalizations that might get made in the subconscious of a child can lead to behaviours that include carefully watching her actions to avoid doing something that might set her dad off or avoiding being angry herself—for fear of what that feeling might do to her. The specific messages that might get stored are Don’t make mistakes and Getting angry is bad.
Children can’t see a parent lose control of himself and interpret that thoughtfully; rather, the child sees most adult behaviour as her fault, and accordingly stores that away with some lessons on how to manage this adult’s behaviour in order to cope with the next time.
These lessons, sometimes referred to by other psychotherapists as subconscious agreements, are created by our need to keep ourselves safe. It is a defensive response generated by our wonderfully complex brain to get through things that are hard to survive. These coping strategies are the essence of core beliefs, which can happen both in a negative and positive light. Positive core beliefs generally help us to succeed and feel empowered. Negative core beliefs generally hold us back from our highest potential.
So while these negative core beliefs can help us to handle difficult people or difficult situations as children, they continue to affect our thinking as we grow into adults. A child who believes that getting angry is bad usually runs into trouble when dealing with anger in an adult relationship. This may lead the individual to avoid conflict, steer away from having difficult conversations, walk away when anger is felt, or even drink anger away.
These behaviours, which are rooted in a negative core belief, (getting angry is bad) are delivered through our inner voice or self-talk (you need to avoid anger). This is where our self-talk comes from! And it’s this self-talk, like Oh no! He’s mad—I should just stop talking that can either sink us or float us when tense situations arise.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the conditions a parent sometimes goes through while raising small children—sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, feeling isolated, lacking fun, putting other’s needs first, feeling a loss of connection with his or her partner—can create the conditions for our own negative beliefs to thrive. In this state, we can inadvertently interact with our children in a way that grows their negative core beliefs.
Here are three ways to prevent the growth of negative core beliefs in our children.
1. Avoid these behaviours with children
Steer away from doing these behaviours:
· Name calling
· Making demands or ordering your child around
· Saying things to embarrass the child (shaming)
· Pointing out what the child is doing wrong (demoralizing)
If you are looking at this list and thinking, what CAN I do? Have no fear! There is so much you can do to raise well-behaved, thoughtful, cooperative, resilient, happy, confident children with a positive approach to discipline. I continually post tips on how to do this over on my Facebook page.
2. Use neutral language with your children.
To avoid the message that situations in life or your anger, even when it is triggered by your child’s mistakes, are the child’s fault, use neutral language that invites the child to think. Speak to your child as a commentator; describe what is happening or how you feel without associating blame. The goal is to speak to the child in a way that communicates he or she is not faulty.
For example, instead of saying, “You make me so angry,” use these neutral words, “I see you are angry. Hitting is not okay.” Please click here to read more about how to use positive discipline.
3. Consider how your child is interpreting your behaviour.
Negative core beliefs are also inadvertently planted when children interpret your behaviour as something they have done wrong or as a result of them not being good enough for you. For example, if you work long or odd hours, your child might mistakenly believe you are choosing do to this over spending time with her.
Also, if you are grumpy after a long hard day or feeling at the end of your rope because you were up several times throughout the night with a feverish, whimpering child, your child is likely to not make that connection and might interpret your mood as her doing.
It is impossible to be friendly all the time. I am not asking you to do that—I am suggesting that in order for children to understand why you are away from them physically or emotionally, explain why you are doing so in a way the child will understand. Parents have jobs to do both at home and out of the home, and children will tolerate these jobs when they feel chosen first. Explain the job that has to be done/why you are away with a suggestion for connecting in the near future.
You can be kind and exhausted at the same time—use language to show the child you need to rest or regroup, work or get something done so she will understand, instead of taking offense.
I bet you’re thinking Great! As if I didn’t have enough guilt or feel badly enough that I’m screwing up my kids! I certainly think this way often. Hopefully you will cut yourself some slack knowing that negative core beliefs don’t generally happen with one rough interaction, but rather through a series of them. If you have a bad parenting moment, you are certainly normal. Here are my suggestions for repairing those moments to prevent the development of negative core beliefs.
Do you want more information? I invite you over to my Facebook page where I post free parenting support and resources.