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Information and inspiration for parents and caregivers of babies, toddlers and preschoolers

Helping young kids cope with traumatic experiences

One of the toughest jobs as a parent is talking to your kids about difficult subjects. It could be current events or something personal going on in your family’s life. Topics such as discrimination, illness, addiction or violence, to name a few.  

Your young kids look to you for help in making sense of what is happening around them, and we know that can be challenging when we struggle to understand it ourselves.

“Despite our best efforts, adults can not always shield children from traumatic events,” said First Things First Chief Program Officer Amy Corriveau. “We can, however, offer safe, predictable environments where children can ask questions, get real answers appropriate for their age and comfort when needed.”

Little ones need positive, nurturing experiences from caring adults to grow and thrive. It’s necessary for their healthy development. The American Psychological Association has five tips to help parents and caregivers put things into perspective and search for answers together.

1. Think about what you want to say.

Advanced planning can make these tough discussions easier. It’s OK to practice what you want to say in your head, to a mirror or with another adult. Sesame Street in Communities has resources to help you be prepared with Difficult Times and Tough Talks

2. Find a quiet moment.

Try to find a time and place where your child can be the center of your attention. This one-on-one interaction will help build a foundation of healthy communication to Help Your Child Deal with Big Feelings

3. Find out what they know.

Ask them, “What have you heard about…?” and then listen. Listen. Listen. And listen more. Parents who nurture positive relationships with their children are Supporting Their Child’s Social-Emotional Development which will be important later in life.

4. Share your feelings with your child.

When you acknowledge your own feelings, it allows your child to see how they can manage their emotions. First Things First and ZERO TO THREE have 5 Ways to Manage Your Own Big Feelings with positive parenting. 

5. Tell the truth.

Explain the facts at a level children can understand without giving graphic details. Mister Rogers used simple, straightforward and honest, explanations that children can understand and that adults can model. He Talked To Us Honestly About Difficult Subjects.

We can’t always control what happens around us, but as parents, you can help your child learn to navigate the tough times in their lives.

Children have to experience real life, but they need the support of adults to build resiliency,” Corriveau said. “That is a skill that will serve them well throughout their lifetime.”

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