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Teigen: Parenting in a heavy world is hard

Conversations with my oldest have shifted to some complex and sometimes heartbreaking topics.

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For parents, the idea of unanswerable questions looms large over situations like these and makes what is already a frightening job on a daily basis that much harder, Danielle Teigen writes.
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While thinking about what to write for a parenting column, I stopped to assess what a lot of my household conversations with my kids involve. With the 5-year-old and 2-year-old, our conversations typically center around sharing toys, playing nicely together, reading books and watching favorite shows on a device.

But with the 9-year-old, conversations have taken a serious turn. From the war in Ukraine to frequent mass shootings, including one at an elementary school in Texas, what we talk about has shifted to some complex and sometimes heartbreaking topics.

We aren’t habitual news program consumers any more (turns out three kids who like to watch their own show in the morning means Mom and Dad have eliminated their choice in an effort to reduce the morning chaos), so it’s not like he’s seeing these stories every day. But we’re not deliberately shielding him or our other children from the harsh realities of our world either. We understand that it’s our job as parents to help him process what he learns on the news and provide him with a safe outlet where he can ask questions and learn more.

But it’s hard.

And when the news is heavy, sometimes I want to shield my children from the sadness and strife in our world. I know I’m not alone, considering my colleague and former boss Matt Von Pinnon said that in December 2012 he hid The Forum from his then-first grader because the front page story was about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School . He had never done that before but shared that he just didn’t see the value in her knowing about the shooting, even as he recognized that “she’ll learn soon enough that life brings some truly difficult days and poses some unanswerable questions.”

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For parents, the idea of unanswerable questions looms large over situations like these and makes what is already a frightening job on a daily basis that much harder. As I’ve struggled to find the right way to talk with my children about these tough situations, I’ve looked to trusted resources and come up with a few key takeaways:

Talk to them

Yes, it may be a scary, sad conversation, but not talking about the realities of the world we live in can make an event like a mass school shooting even more threatening in a child’s mind. You not talking about it implies the event is too terrible for you to even address. Start the conversation by asking your child what they know or have heard about the event and identify any misinformation, misconceptions or underlying fear, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network .

Use age appropriate language and encourage your child to ask questions and answer as honestly and straightforward as you can.

Take it as slow as you need to make sure you both have time to understand and process what you’re feeling. It’s a good idea to check with your child about their feelings as you share information.

"We’re not deliberately shielding our children from the harsh realities of our world. We understand that it’s our job as parents to help him process what he learns on the news and provide him with a safe outlet where he can ask questions and learn more. But it’s hard. And when the news is heavy, sometimes I want to shield my children from the sadness and strife in our world."
Danielle Teigen

Validate emotions

As parents, we feel many emotions about many situations, and a terrible tragedy like a mass shooting at an elementary school is bound to elicit strong feelings for moms and dads.

That’s okay.

One of the best things we can do for our childrens’ emotional and mental health is recognize and validate our own . Dr. Becky Kennedy from Good Inside shared that “our emotional displays do not overwhelm our children. What overwhelms a child is witnessing an emotional display and not having an adult explain and connect afterwards.”

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A few days after the Uvalde shooting, I was actually watching the news and had to sit down and cover my mouth because I’d gasped at a piece of information shared in the story. My son, who was in the room but on his own device, immediately recognized that I’d had an emotional reaction and asked what was wrong.

My first reaction was to brush it off and quickly turn off the TV, but instead I shared what I had just heard and also explained that I was feeling especially sad for the parents of those children who had also learned that information and were likely feeling even more upset about what had happened.

According to Dr. Becky, validating fear does not make it worse; it simply recognizes that the feeling you or your child is feeling is real. As a guest on the podcast “Sharon Says So” Dr. Becky also shared some great strategies for helping kids cope with fear. She talked about how to help kids learn distress tolerance through AVP: acknowledge what is happening emotionally, validate feelings and permit yourself to feel it.

Pray

While this option may not work for all parents, I have found that sometimes prayer is the only source of comfort during sad times.

Months ago when I was purchasing gifts for upcoming celebrations, my son found a Prayer Wall in the store so I asked if he wanted to add a request. He wrote “Please pray for Ukraine” on a sticky note and we added it to the wall, noticing how many others had asked for the same thing, before taking a moment to pray together for the war-torn nation.

A prayer warrior and author I follow offered a few ideas for prayers during tough times such as asking for comfort and peace for those suffering as well as for the ability to know how to respond to sad situations with more than just platitudes, even if it means no words at all.

When this world seems so beyond our control, prayer has given me an outlet for my sadness and an opportunity to step outside myself and my situation to recognize what is happening in the world. It’s also a way for kids to realize that even when it seems like they can’t do anything to help, they can still offer a prayer.

Related Topics: ON THE MINDS OF MOMS
Danielle Teigen has a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication as well as a master's degree in mass communication from North Dakota State University. She has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015, first as a digital content manager before becoming the Life section editor and then deputy editor. She recently moved back to her hometown in South Dakota, where she works remotely for Forum Communications as managing editor of On the Minds of Moms.
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