Images and Talk of Violence — How Parents Can Help Kids Cope

It has been nearly impossible these past days and months to shield our children from seeing vivid images and alarming predictions of violence, instability and unrest. These traumatic events can disrupt our children's sense of safety both physiologically and emotionally. We know that adoptees have already experienced different forms of trauma. This is a theme that we commonly address in our therapeutic work at Boston Post Adoption Resources. Here we offer some thoughts and resources for adoptive and foster parents and caregivers to help kids cope during these uncertain and frightening times.

Offer Reassurance of Safety

Explain that the adults in your child’s life are there to protect them, and that your home is safe. Kids hearing and seeing threats of violence might be anxious about what they might encounter when they leave the house to attend school in person and what might happen to their parents while they are away. The National Association of School Psychologists suggests how to discuss school safety procedures in a developmentally appropriate way. You might point out that school “staff works with parents and public safety providers (police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.”

Look for Signs that Your Child Wants to Talk

Sometimes questions serve as clues that a child would like to talk through their thoughts, but often parents have to watch for more subtle signs like hovering while you are doing chores. When you sense they are ready, be careful not to assume you know what they want to discuss. Ask your child what they’ve heard, how they feel about it, and if they have any questions. Listen to their response while you give them your full attention. Do your best not to minimize or downplay their feelings; they are real, and they can be intense. If they struggle to articulate their feelings verbally, consider drawing, writing, or imaginative play as ways to explore what they are thinking.

Let Your Child’s Questions Guide You

Let your child’s questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Giving kids information in an age-appropriate way can help them feel safe and gain a better understanding of what is happening. When it’s your turn to talk, it’s okay to admit you are sad or angry. In fact, your honesty plays a role in helping your child feel safe and to feel more connected to the family. Teens, in particular, need to know they can have open conversations with parents. Model that you can speak genuinely about your own feelings, without telling your child what to think.

Keep a Routine

Make sure your family gets enough sleep and eats three balanced meals a day. Encourage regular stretch breaks and physical activity even if it means walking up and down stairs a few times. Schedule games and other activities that don’t involve watching a TV. We’ve written before about the Benefits of Hide and Seek for an Adoptee and about the Magic of Baking, something we actually have done in therapy at BPAR. If your child has trouble falling asleep, try simple breathing exercises. These healthy habits will help decrease stress and enable all of you to better cope. Maintaining a familiar routine will also help to regain a sense of normalcy and control.

Monitor and Discuss Content on News and Social Media

Be aware of what your child or teenager is looking at online. There are a lot of  disturbing images and videos online that could be traumatic for kids to view. Talk to them about the dangers of social media as well as the danger of  misinformation. For adults, be mindful of "doom scrolling" so that you are not taking in traumatic content without giving your brain a chance to process. Notice how you're feeling and take breaks.

Look for Signs that Your Child Might Need Professional Help

Many of us react to stress and anxiety with behavioral changes, loss of appetite, and altered sleep patterns. If you see these changes in your child, pay careful attention. Seek help from a mental health professional if you are concerned. Note that adoptees with past traumatic experiences, special needs, or a history of depression have a higher risk of a severe reaction to the events we have been witnessing.

Take Care of Yourself

Your needs matter. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you will not be helpful in taking care of others! We offer creative self-care ideas in our blog on the Importance of Self Care for Parents.

Print out BPAR’s Caregiver Bill of Rights and review it often. Set boundaries, accept that it’s okay to make mistakes, and allow yourself to lean on friends and others for help.

And don’t forget, the team at BPAR is here to support you.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 800-273-TALK or 911 immediately. 
For crisis support via text message, text LISTEN to 741741.

Written by Kelly DiBenedetto, LMHC, ATR and Lucy Davis
Boston Post Adoption Resources

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About Kelly DiBenedetto, LMHC, ATR

Kelly DiBenedetto, LMHC, ATR is Clinical Director at Boston Post Adoption Resources. To read her bio, please visit BPAR's Team page.