Your Therapy

Talking about hard things

As a social worker and therapist, it is part of my work to ask about pain, suffering, anger, and grief. I feel privileged when someone I am consulting with can share their experiences, and their emotions with me. As a parent, it can feel very different. I have an urge to protect my daughters from difficult information and experience uncertainty about how to talk about difficult subjects. As the violence of the war in Israel and Palestine is dominating the news and the way that this issue is polarizing communities it can feel hard to know how to talk about these things with your children.

Here are some tips I would recommend for parents in discussing this topic with their children.

1.Start with yourself. Notice what you are experiencing, your own emotional state and worries. If you are experiencing distress, you can model that this is understandable and name what you are doing for your own self-care. Consider what does my child need from me right now? In general, if children feel like their parents are okay, they’re going to be okay.

2.Know your child. Consider your child’s age and specific needs at this stage of development. Younger children may benefit from very simple information, perhaps acknowledging that there are some sad and difficult things happening in another part of the world and that they are safe, and people are doing their best to help. Older children may benefit from a more detailed discussion about what is happening, while also giving them a context for thinking about this. Allow time to answer any questions your child may have and bring in your values as a family.

3.Create space for reflection, as well as setting limits. Stay close to your child’s experience, asking what have they heard and if they have any questions. Validate that it’s okay to feel scared, sad, or angry about what they may have heard or seen. Allowing and validating emotions can soothe our nervous system. You may also need to set limits on discussions that happen in your child’s presence or limit the news they are exposed to.

4.Share examples of helpers. Seek out or share examples of things that people are doing to help, advocate and act. We know that is a way to mitigate worry, feelings of helplessness and distress.

For further information and a break down of suggested tips for each developmental stage I would recommend this article in Parents magazine by Beth Ann Mayer, published on October 12, 2023.

Ellie Lathrop is a registered social worker who specializes in seeing young people, families, and adults. Ellie’s practice is informed by evidence-based modalities such as Emotionally-Focused Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Mindfulness, Self-Compassion and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

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