When Your Child Realizes There’s Chaos in the World

SadLast night my son made a comment that struck me so hard, I was at a loss as to how to respond. He looked at me like an old, troubled soul and said, “I feel like every day lots of people are being killed by someone bad.” As a parent, how do you come back from that? Our job is to protect our kids both physically and emotionally while simultaneously preparing them for the outside world. And like all of you, we do the best we can. We only watch the news when the children are asleep and they most certainly don’t have access to apps like CNN or Fox News, so hearing this was pretty shocking. The worst part is, I know I’m not the only parent out there whose children have been talking about the current state of the world.

In all honesty, no matter what we do to protect them, information is everywhere, and our kids are becoming more and more aware. Kids talk about things at school, summer camp and stories show up on even the most benign social media posts. Even passing by the newspapers or magazine in the grocery store, our kids see the images and if they can read the headlines, they will.

As a mental health advocate, I recently blogged about the mental health effects major tragedies such as Paris, Orlando, Dallas, Istanbul and now Nice, have on individuals. That combined with my own child’s comment got me thinking; how are these tragedies, which are becoming increasingly close together, affecting our children and what can we do to explain it in a way that’s honest while still giving them a sense of security.

If you think about how recent news has affected your own mental health, imagine what it must feel like from a child’s perspective. While I’m no expert, I think we can all agree that children process tragedy differently than adults. Nightmares, anger, clinginess, reluctance to participate in activities they normally enjoy, and even tics are some of the reactions children have to bad news. Often, I hear children are resilient but are they really? If you think about children who have experienced personal loss or suffering, the residual effects can last years, even a lifetime.

One approach I use with my younger children is to liken bad times to fairy tales. There’s always a villain, something bad happens, but in the end, the villain is punished and good triumphs. While I don’t ever go with “happily ever after,” I want them to know that the good people in the world exponentially outnumber the bad.

With my older child, it’s a bit different. Our children learn about subjects like slavery, civil rights, and the Holocaust. They are fully aware that there are groups out there whose goal it is to harm others because of their beliefs or the color of their skin. In the instance where my kid made that comment, I was honest. I explained that there was someone who did not understand or agree with the beliefs of the majority of individuals (the Nice attacks) and the only way he could express that was by harming them. However, the good people came to the rescue of those hurt. They protected others. And above all, this was one person in a world of billions. He, by no means, represents the good people of France and stories like this only seem more common because the news focuses on it for days upon days.

I did explain that while we have a better chance of winning the lottery (he didn’t know what that was), he didn’t have to worry because mommy and daddy will always do our best to protect him and his siblings. That response seemed to appease his little heart. Yes, it is sad that we have to have these conversations with our children, but this is the world we live in. I just hope the current world climate improves because no child should ever have to think about anything other than school, friends, and having fun.

About the Author

image1-6Jeanine Hoff is the founder and creator of Where is the Sunshine, a nonprofit organization and social media resource dedicated to mental health advocacy through positivity, education and collaboration. She is a member and presenter for NAMI’s Ending the Silence and Peer-to-Peer programs and is certified in Mental Health First Aid (Youth) and Suicide Prevention. Jeanine is also a classically trained singer and pianist hailing from the Big Apple but is now loving life in the Sunshine State.


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