As child clinicians we are expected to have answers for our clients and their parents when challenging events happen. However, in the last few weeks the news has been overwhelmingly horrifying with the attacks in Orlando and Nice, the deaths of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the rebellion in Turkey, and black men dying at the hands of police. If we’re honest, we may be just as confused and overwhelmed as our young clients. Our own feelings of vulnerability, our anxieties and confusion, and our pessimism may be taking center stage in our consciousness. It is worth remembering that, even in this state, we have learned and developed some very useful tools that we can share with our clients and their parents.
First, parents need to avoid the temptation to stay away from difficult topics. As clinicians we can model listening and empathy. Encourage parents to find out what their kids are feeling and thinking. What does the child know? Encourage parents to express their own feelings, as long as it is done in a way that is informative and age appropriate. Encourage parents to tell the truth; again in language that is developmentally appropriate.
The immediacy of our media, as it delivers the news through our electronic devices, sometimes makes us feel as if danger and crime is lurking around every corner. As parents listen to their children they may be able to offer a balanced perspective about the actual risks and dangers in the neighborhood where they live. Of course, if they do live in a dangerous community, or are confronted with specific challenges because of race or gender, parents can not only share in the anger and frustration, but process and develop adaptive responses. As humans we are problem solving animals. We want to be able to do something. Parents can help their children understand that it is possible to respond with kindness and empathy, and thereby experience much greater satisfaction than if we respond with aggression.
At the end of any conversation parents need to offer reassurance. Let the child know what is being done by the community and parents to keep them safe, and moving forward parents should monitor where and how the child is getting their news. Parents should make sure to set aside time to engage in fun family activities and take a break from routine chores and tasks.