7 Tips for Parents When Talking to Kids During Times of Stress

Recent headline news has been very challenging. It is hard to open up the newspaper or watch the news without being confronted by either the divisive and heated political discussions or headlines of violence here at home and around the world. We recently sat down with our advisory board member Dr. Fadi Haddad, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist and a Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU School of Medicine to talk about how parents should be communicating with their children about these subjects and what guidelines they should use when talking about stressful and challenging topics. 

7 Tips for Parents When Talking to Kids During Times of Stress

*When we specify guidelines for how to talk with kids we need to be mindful of what is developmentally appropriate and remember that children want to feel validated in their experiences. It is important to assess and reference the age, developmental maturity and cognitive skills of each child so we can evaluate their ability to comprehend the complexity and gravity of certain topics. 

*Put your oxygen mask on first. Make sure that you have your anxiety and reactions in check. Take time to prepare your talking points and set up a discussion with your children when everyone is well fed, well rested and able to be as self-regulated as possible. 

*Secrecy can provoke anxiety. Be honest with your children and try to normalize the experience (i.e. it’s normal to be scared). Be proactive as it is better for them to learn about this information from you and not on the playground or from the Internet. Explain basic facts without scaring them. Be curious and open up the conversation with some gentle and yet probing questions to find out what a child already knows.

*Learn about a child's take away message. Help to guide them away from the media's sensationalized portrayal and exaggerated representation of tragedy. 

*Project a sense of security. Try to keep to normal routines as much as possible to reduce anxiety.  Avoid generalizing and catastrophizing.

*Take Action. Try to humanize the people on TV and show compassion. An example from the recent concern over police brutality would be to try to point out good acts of police officers as well. Another idea would be try to visit your local police station with your child to teach them the valuable lesson that we shouldn't generalize one incident to a whole group of people. 

*Seek professional help if you observe changes in your child's behavior at home or in school; talk to a professional. Signs to look for are irritability, clinginess, anxiety or changes in sleep or appetite.


Fadi Haddad, MD is a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist who brings to his clinical work an unusual mix of academic and practical experience in diagnostics, crisis intervention, and therapeutic techniques. He is on the Advisory Board of The Meeting House.