In the News!

I want to talk a bit about the many stressful events we’re hearing about on the news and in social media. I’ve been debating whether or not to write a post about this (it can be such a sensitive subject), but several parents have asked me about it. The reality is that the last few months have had an unprecedented number of news stories that have created increased levels of stress, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. In mid-February, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that 57% of those surveyed said the current political climate is a “very” or “somewhat” significant source of stress in their lives. (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/stressed-nation.aspx)

So adults are feeling increased stress. How do we make sure not to transmit that stress to our children? How do we (or do we at all) talk with our children about the ever-changing political landscape and current events?

Are you stressed?

The first issue is your stress. Are you overly stressed? Some symptoms include:

  • Being easily agitated, moody
  • Difficulty relaxing (body and/or mind)
  • Lower energy
  • Physical symptoms (including aches, pains, insomnia)
  • Inability to focus
  • Constant worrying or racing thoughts
  • Changes in appetite
  • Procrastinating

What to do

Some suggestions for managing stress:

Step away from the stressor (news and social media). I understand the draw of checking Facebook, Twitter, or whatever platform you use. FOMO (fear of missing out) can have a real effect on our behavior. We worry that we’ll miss the next breaking news story or development because we’re invested in what’s happening in our country. It’s ok to take a break. Make a conscious decision to do so. It will be ok.

Exercise and self-care. Make sure you are taking good care of yourself. Take a run or brisk walk – even if it’s just around the block. Make sure you’re eating well and sleeping enough. Or turn on some music and have a quick dance party – either alone or with your children.

Connect with people and laugh. Reach out. Call a friend, send an email. Share your concerns, but be careful that sharing doesn’t become an escalating gripe session – that could contribute to the stress.

Meditate. Meditation and mindfulness help the mind and body to relax, focus, and tune out some of the stress.

What Do I Say?

The second concern is how much to talk with your children about current events and what to say.

This is a judgement call for each parent to decide, but keep in mind where your child is developmentally. Younger children will have a difficult time managing too much information regarding current events, while older children may be interested and eager to engage about the news. I understand that with a single tragic event on the news it’s somewhat easier to shield your child from that news. With the election and recent world and national developments, the news is somewhat pervasive. It’s ok to talk with your child about events in the news and even your concerns and worries, but it’s important to reassure them that these are adult concerns and they’re going to be ok.

This can be an opportunity for you to talk with your child about your values and the values of your family. You can talk about why or why not the news event conflicts or reinforces your beliefs and values, again at a developmentally appropriate level. And if you feel change is necessary, perhaps talk about how individuals, groups, political representatives, government can bring about that change. Particularly with older children you can discuss with them how conflict is ok, in politics specifically but also life in general. What is important is how we manage the conflict.

If you feel your child is distressed, remind him that our country is a great place where we’re allowed to disagree, and we’re allowed to work for change. Also, see the above tips for parents and use with your child. Step away, do something fun and engaging with your child. Allow you and your child to be completely distracted (see my last post for some ideas!)

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me. I’m happy to talk with you about your specific concerns.

“How was school today?”

You’ve been waiting in the carpool line for a while. You’re looking forward to seeing your son. You haven’t seen him all day. You’re curious about what’s been happening in his life while you’re not there. He opens the door, throws his stuff in, hops in, and buckles up. You ask hopefully, “How was your day?” Response, “Fine.” You: “What did you do today?” Son: “Nothing.” or “I don’t remember.” Disappointing, right?

How do you get your child engaged in a conversation with you where he’ll share?

One tip is to do something with him. Let him use the time in the car to relax. Then find small activities to do with him. While he’s busy doing something he’s more likely to relax and engage. For example, have him help cook a meal. Start talking about the food you’re making, mention what your favorite food is, what is his most/least favorite food? What’s his most/least favorite food in dining hall? Who does he sit with? Do they like the food? What do you guys talk about? Are they your good friends? If not, who are your friends or who would you ask to be at your table? See? Now you’ve got him talking about his friends!

You can do this with almost any activity – take a walk around the block, play a card game, shoot some hoops or play catch.

 

Sometimes different, open-ended questions may elicit more of a response. Here’s a list of some conversation prompts that might help:

  1. What made you smile today?
  2. Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw/showed?
  3. Was there an example of unkindness? How did you respond?
  4. Does everyone have a friend at recess?
  5. What was the book about that your teacher read?
  6. What’s the word of the week?
  7. Did anyone do anything silly to make you laugh?
  8. Did anyone cry?
  9. What did you do that was creative?
  10. What is the most popular game at recess?
  11. What was the best thing that happened today?
  12. Did you help anyone today?
  13. Did you tell anyone “thank you?”
  14. Who did you sit with at lunch?
  15. What made you laugh?
  16. Did you learn something you didn’t understand?
  17. Who inspired you today?
  18. What was the peak and the pit?
  19. What was your least favorite part of the day?
  20. Was anyone in your class gone today?
  21. Did you ever feel unsafe?
  22. What is something you heard that surprised you?
  23. What is something you saw that made you think?
  24. Who did you play with today?
  25. Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
  26. What is something that challenged you?
  27. How did someone fill your bucket today? Whose bucket did you fill?
  28. Did you like your lunch?
  29. Rate your day on a scale from 1-10.
  30. Did anyone get in trouble today?
  31. How were you brave today?
  32. What questions did you ask at school today?
  33. Tell us your top two things from the day (before you can be excused from the dinner table!).
  34. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  35. What are you reading?
  36. What was the hardest rule to follow today?
  37. Teach me something I don’t know.
  38. If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?
  39. (For older kids):  Do you feel prepared for your history test?” or, “Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to talk about?” (In my opinion, the key is not only the way a question is phrased, but responding in a supportive way.)
  40. Who did you share your snacks with at lunch?
  41. What made your teacher smile? What made her frown?
  42. What kind of person were you today?
  43. What made you feel happy?
  44. What made you feel proud?
  45. What made you feel loved?
  46. Did you learn any new words today?
  47. What do you hope to do before school is out for the year?
  48. If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be? And why?
  49. What is your least favorite part of the school building? And favorite?
  50. If you switched places with your teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?

(list adapted from post by Leslie Means on her blog Her View From Home)