Tips to Help Your Children Develop Coping Skills

Last month, the United States witnessed one of the worst months, with children and adults dying by gunfire.

By Anne E. Mead, Ed. D.

Last month, the United States witnessed one of the worst months, with children and adults dying by gunfire. I don’t condone any acts of violence, and our families have been truly impacted by these incidents. As parents, we work to protect and support our children affected by these tragedies. This month, I want to address some of the strategies that we can engage in to help ourselves and our children process these horrible acts. As parents, we are challenged as we process our own thoughts while providing structure, support, and hope to help our children develop healthy coping skills. Encouraging and allowing our children to share their feelings is one of the most valuable ways to process what has happened. Having an adult who can listen, provide feedback and coping ideas, is paramount to helping children develop their own coping skills. 

Parents often think we can protect children from the news of tragedies. Unfortunately, hearing adults talking about it, hearing the news from other students, watching TV, or learning about it on social media can be unsettling for children who are not ready to process their thoughts. Rather, hearing about it from a parent helps build trust, and the parent can provide the facts, not unsolicited thoughts or social media sensation. Turning off the TV and limiting social media in your home is advised. Children who keep hearing news updates or viewing clips of items on social media often don’t have the emotional intelligence to process what is being said or the knowhow to deal with it.

Listening to your children and helping them to verbalize their feelings and transform them into manageable thoughts is effective. Repeating back to the children their feelings validates that it is okay to have feelings of sadness or anger as well as sharing your own feelings. Recognizing that you often both have the same feelings helps your children see that their feelings are normal. Think about some of the bad feelings that you both have and how you can work together to manage them.

Children often internalize the idea that incidents like these might happen to them. Reassure them that their feelings are real; however, remind them of the safety measures that you have taken to protect them. Don’t volunteer too much information and aim to discuss only what your child can process. Going into graphic details that might stir more fears, or lead to a discussion that is not age appropriate, does not help your child. Instead, have your children draw pictures, describe why they drew them, and how they are feeling. Be honest with your children about the fact that you don’t have all the answers. Remind them that you, your family, and teachers are there to protect them. 

Think about what you might do as a family to memorialize those who have died. Perhaps send a card or grow a special plant. Bringing closure at that time might not be possible. As feelings continue to arise, let your children know you are there to talk things through. Lastly, make sure you take care of yourself. As parents, we are bombarded with so many issues. Remain calm and make sure you have a support system.

Anne E. Mead, Ed. D., is the administrator for the Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs of the Danbury Public Schools. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact her at 203-830-6508 or meadan@danbury.k12.