If your children have been around the news this week or have access to social media, they may have been exposed to anxiety provoking images, emotional sound clips, or the hashtag #familiesbelongtogether in regard to over 2,300 immigrant children being separated from their parents at U.S. borders. This can understandably be a very scary idea for children.
The American Psychological Association, The National Association of School Counselors, and The American Academy of Pediatrics (among others) have all released statements about the traumatic repercussions of separating families. However, even if your child is safe at home within your arms, hearing, thinking about, and imagining the situations being experienced by kids just like them may have a lasting impact on them as well.
Image c/o: News 96.5
Because children can be extra sensitive to ideas they fear may come true one day, it’s important to reassure your children of what you want them to know: today, they are safe.
Here are eight tips to keep in mind when talking to your children about the current border crisis:
Only provide developmentally appropriate information. Keep in mind your child’s age and their sensitivities when discussing the border crisis in front of or with them. Be honest and forthcoming if they ask questions as they have a right to the truth, but use age-appropriate language and pay attention to their reactions. Consider an age-appropriate news source like Time for Kids or HTE News for Kids when allowing your children to read about current events. Talk with your older children about all sides of a story and help them take on other points of view.
Seek to understand first; listen to find out what they know. Provide your input and share your feelings second. Ask permission to discuss your child’s feelings regarding the border crisis. If they are completely unaware, and you are sure they won’t hear about the crisis from friends who are possibly misinformed, it may not be necessary to bring up these current events. However, if your child is interested ask your child open-ended questions and allow them to put in words for themselves how are they are feeling or being affected. Share your feelings about the crisis and normalize theirs, acknowledging that it’s okay to feel whatever they are feeling.
Reinforce that, today, they are safe. Children sometimes have a difficult time differentiating between what they are seeing or hearing on a screen and their own reality. This is a great opportunity to show children that although we are not in control of everything that happens to us, we are in control of what we choose to focus on right now. Help your child focus on the now – safe at home with you – versus an unknown and unlikely “what if…” future.
Use this situation as an empathy and compassion building opportunity. Have conversations about what it would be like to walk in another kid’s shoes. Discuss the importance of accepting and respecting others. Define tolerance. Read books about the immigrant experience and fight stereotypes by pointing out the contributions that immigrants make to this country. The Latino Donors Collaborative showcases real data highlighting the truth about Latinos in America. The more informed you are, the better prepared you will be to have supportive and constructive conversations with your kids. Watch these inspiring movies about Latinos together.
Talk about world and American history. Older children and adolescents are more capable of talking about today’s crisis in the context of other historical missteps they have already learned about in school (i.e., America’s history of slavery, The Hidden Child Foundation, Internment of Japanese Americans). How can they be a part of remembering what has happened so that their generation does not engage in similar practices?
Remember, your kids are taking their cues from you. Be respectful of other’s opinions. Take care of yourself and take a break from media coverage when you need it. Model what kind of citizen you want your children to be and do what you can, where you are to help.
Take Action. Protest. Donate. Highlight the helpers by sharing stories of aid workers, community leaders, and humanitarians. Brainstorm ways that they can to be one of the helpers: a bake sale, a lemonade stand, a book drive, a garage sale, donating their toys, or encourage any ideas they have of their own.
Close the conversation with care. Gauge your child’s level of anxiety by watching their body language, listening to their tone of voice, and watching their breathing. It’s important to remind your child that they can have difficult conversations with you at any time. You care, you have the time to listen, and you value their feelings and opinions.
Image c/o: Tee Public
Opinions in this post are solely my own and not of any of my employers. Information for this post was gathered from the following sources: Common Sense Media, Unicef