[E164] How to Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy

Episode 164 October 24, 2023 00:31:33
[E164] How to Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy
Empowered to Connect Podcast
[E164] How to Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy

Oct 24 2023 | 00:31:33


Show Notes

In this episode of the Empowered to Connect podcast, our ETCI Program Manager, Becca McKay, joins host JD Wilson to delve into the challenging topic of "How to Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy."

With the horrific news coming out of the middle east right now as the war between Israel and Hamas rages on, we thought it pertinent to have an episode where we talk about how to talk about hard things. We will say off of the jump - this isn't an episode explaining how to make this task easy. It isn't an episode to take the guesswork out of a hard conversation like this. Talking to our kids about tragedy is hard. "Tragedy" is a subjective term - some of the topics that may fall into a tragic category for one family are not as uniquely challenging to others and vice versa - that's why we wanted to talk through a simple framework for how to have these conversations in as healthy of a manner as possible.

On a lighter note, we are less than a month away from our first ever global connection event here in Memphis, TN with Grammy-Nominated Comedian and this week's Saturday Night Live Host, Nate Bargatze! Join us November 12th in Memphis for a night to remember as ETC hosts our first ever fundraising event to share about the incredibly dire need for our work right now and the exciting future ahead of us! To purchase tickets or have your company sponsor the event, just head to empoweredtoconnect.org/investinginhope TODAY!


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Episode Transcript

[00:00:04] Speaker A: Welcome to the Empowered to Connect podcast, where we come together to discuss a healing centered approach to engagement and well being for ourselves, our families, and our communities. I'm JD. Wilson, and I am your host. And today, Becca McKay and I talk about how to talk to your kids about unthinkable tragedies. This came up in our mind specifically right now. If you're listening to this, right when this episode drops, it is October 2023, and the conflict war between Israel and Hamas has just broken out. That will be the only two times you hear those words today, either Hamas or Israel, because we are not going to tell you what to think about the war. We're not going to wait into politics. We're not going to talk about any of the things that are happening with that particular conflict. What we wanted to do, as some of us on staff were talking with our teens about how to process the stuff that they're seeing on the news or hearing about in school, it helped us think we probably should share this with you as well. And so we wanted to talk about how to talk to your kids about unspeakable, unthinkable hard tragedies. As we'll talk about in the episode, it's obviously not limited to war. It might not even always be something that everybody would categorize in that category. So just to say that this is an episode, we're going to talk about that, and we're going to talk about that with Becca now. Okay, so Becca McKay is here with us. And Becca, we're going to talk about how to talk to your kids about unthinkable tragedies. This, as I said, in the open, like, might be related to a current event happening right now. Or it might be something that affects you just and your nuclear family, or it might affect just your street or just your community or your school, your church, whatever it might be. This could be terrorism. This could be violence related. This could be natural disaster related. But there are difficult things that usually leave us speechless that happen a lot just in the world. And so for those of us who are caring for kids in any capacity, be it a school teacher or juvenile justice worker or parent or foster parent or you name it, if you are caring for kids in your life, knowing how to talk about really difficult things with them is vital. And so that's a long introduction, but thank you for coming on. And why don't we start there? Becca, when you think about mean, you've had to particularly talk to groups of children before about some pretty incredibly hard things. So how did you begin to approach that with them? [00:03:01] Speaker B: Absolutely. So I think the first thing I would say is to be aware. So many of us, for valid reasons, take social media breaks or we limit our own as adults exposure to the media. And that is 100% understandable and needed, because the access to knowing all the hard things that are happening around the globe in this day and age can be extremely exhausting. It can be damaging to your mental health. All those different things can happen. But I would say, first of all, just be aware of the types of things that your kid might be hearing about in other contexts. Maybe they go to school and they hear it from their school friends. Maybe they're homeschooled, but they hear it in their co op or their faith community. Maybe they're hearing it from older cousins or friends. So just kind of have a pulse on what are the things that someone else might be talking to my kid about that are happening either, like you said, in the world, maybe in our country, maybe in our neighborhood, maybe in our school. So kind of step number one, be aware of what's going on around your kid and what they could be exposed to. [00:04:12] Speaker A: Yeah, I think this can be difficult because there's always something happening. Right. So the thing that I would add to this would just be be aware and then be intentional about being aware sort of through your yeah. One of the things that my wife is amazing at, Elizabeth, is an awesome conversationalist with our kids. She wants to navigate what's going on with your friends, what's going on with so and so, asking specific questions about how their kids are doing or how their friends are doing. And then she'll say, like, hey, is anybody talking about and different things might be current events right now. I mean, serious or funny or whatever. We had a friend whose kid tripped in front of the school and fell down and made a huge spectacle of it and made everybody laugh over it and then popped up and was really funny about it, and it took it in a stride. I wasn't super embarrassed. Just took the opportunity to be a class con, make everybody laugh. This afternoon, it was like, hey, did everybody talk about so and so tripping at the school? So it doesn't have to always be like, is anyone talking about war today? [00:05:33] Speaker B: Right. [00:05:33] Speaker A: It doesn't have to be that. But just being aware of what your kids are thinking about. Sometimes there's things that aren't even on our radar that we ask questions in carpool in the afternoon, and everyone harps on the exact same thing that we didn't think was a big deal. Well, that clues us in that's something they're feeling, so let's talk with them about that. So that's the only thing I would add to that. One of the things that you've talked about before is thinking and planning ahead. You want to talk about that? How do you do that? Sometimes you're hearing about things real time, right. So how do you think and plan ahead? Yeah. [00:06:09] Speaker B: Once you become aware of an event and it could be something in the news that's like a global war could be thinking about something like a pandemic or it could be more close to home like friend lost a family member or school community lost someone, or someone got really sick and had to have surgery. So it could be kind of those types of things. So when you become aware of that, take a minute and just process. If you're parenting with a partner this is a great thing to just chat through briefly. If you're not, call a friend, call someone that you trust and just process your kids ages, their stages and their states. So their age obviously is a given their stage, their developmental stage. Think about their maturity level, think about their state. Like how are they right now? Are they super stressed? Are they super silly? Are they super calm? Think about the best time and place to open up that conversation. When you're talking about unthinkable tragedies planning ahead does not mean have all the answers because we don't we do not have the answer to how could something so evil happen? Why is so and so doing such things? Why did we lose that person? Now think about your beliefs, your values, think about in advance maybe what questions your kid might have but not so you can answer all of them but just so you can be prepared and regulated and then as soon as you're ready, open the conversation. We often think that when we don't talk about things we're shielding or protecting our kids. But if we're not bringing the conversations up a couple of things can happen. One, we might be accidentally communicating hey, we don't talk about that either on purpose or an accident. We might communicate to our kids or preteens our teenagers. We don't talk about that. That is not something we talk about. So you do want to open the conversation and we don't want the second thing is we don't want our kids to find the information that they're looking for from unreliable sources. [00:08:05] Speaker A: Man yes. [00:08:07] Speaker B: What do I mean by that? Peers, social media, someone's older cousin we don't want them to be looking for information about what has happened from those unreliable types of places. [00:08:18] Speaker A: Yeah well and this transfers over to a whole lot of issues, right? Like you could apply this principle to talking about anything you find difficult at all. Talking to kids about sex. You do not want other eleven year old kids giving sex ed to your kids because that is blind leading the blind. Everybody is worse off in that situation, right? It transfers across a whole lot of different realms. We've got to find the way to take care of ourselves first and prep for that. If that's something that feels incredibly heavy to you or very difficult to you, do the work to regulate yourself first before taking information to them. Don't deliver it to them in a frenzy but do your own work and then once you've kind of regulated, then rip the bandit off. Go have a conversation. [00:09:10] Speaker B: I guess I skipped over one thing, which is there are ages and stages that you might decide, we're not going to talk about that. So I guess I did skip over that. So if you're listening and you're like, you're telling me to sit down with my two year old and talk about XYZ? No, unless it's someone that you lost in your community that the two year old is used to seeing every Sunday. And so think about how your kids might be impacted. This is not like a blanket statement, but we just do want to be mindful of those ages and stages. What I will say is kids can hear hard things younger than we think they can. So don't be scared. Don't be scared to open up conversations with your younger kids in basic ways about things that they might be bumping up against in their day to day life. [00:09:54] Speaker A: Yeah, something that you've said and Dr Catherine Blackney, who's been on with us before, is a huge advocate of as well. Use accurate and real terms to describe what's happening. Talk more about that. I mean, this is like, again, another difficult one for some people hand up to handle. [00:10:16] Speaker B: Yeah, it seems so scary and so hard, but we've got to use the right vocab so that our kids learn what things are. So, maybe a couple of examples. Like if there's a school shooting saying the words school shooting, if there's a war or a terrorist attack, you mentioned sex, so if there's body parts saying that someone died, these are terms that are big and emotionally charged and a lot of adults try to soften the blow. We'll use death as an example. A lot of adults want to say, they're no longer with us, they've gone on ahead, they're in glory, they've gone to sleep. Like, we say things hoping to soften the blow. But it can be very confusing for a kid who doesn't yet have the brain space to really understand what's going on. And so, yes, it is really hard to sit with a four year old and tell them that someone they loved has died. But I am saying, use those words, use the real words gently and accurately and then describe what they are in age appropriate terms. Skipping that step, man can just make it. We can think, we just had the best conversation ever with our kids and they may walk away going, oh, this means XYZ, or, oh, I guess this could happen, or their imaginations can run kind of wild. [00:11:43] Speaker A: And I think along this line, we have to remember that hard things are hard. Yeah. There's no softening the blow of losing a loved one, having a loved one pass away. Right. Pain is going to be there, the grief is going to be there, loss is there. So to try to soften the blow in a way that might bring out more questions from the kid to eventually get to the point of, well, they're dead. That is impossibly hard. And so the more succinct, obviously, like you said, gentle you can be, but not running around the world to get to hard news. Yeah, I think that is incredibly hard. But if we can teach our kids, too, that when hard things happen. That's not like, no, we need to be tough. We need to be tough. That's what they would have wanted. They would have wanted us to be tough. Don't cry. Like, understand they're in a better place. Those kind of things are not helpful in the moment. Right. Like, let's let that tender moment be tender and sit with kids in it. I think this is one of those moments where it's okay to be more responsive than it is to be proactive and perspective. Yeah, you've got news to share, obviously, but maybe let the agenda stop there. And after that news is shared, I know that's a lot to handle. Do you have any questions that you want to ask me? Do you just want to sit and cry for a few minutes and validate those feelings? It is sad. It is really sad this happened. It's really difficult. But that will give you an opportunity to kind of see where they're at with the information. And sometimes it's going to be, oh, man, can we have grilled cheese for lunch? And sometimes it's going to be like an hour of weeping and gnashing of teeth. And so just let your kids kind of lead those moments and be with them. Get them what they need. What they need is you and your presence in those moments of hearing hard information. [00:13:52] Speaker B: That's such a good reminder because you might have a kid who really feels the emotions of it. You might be expecting that. You might be expecting if you feel particularly sad about something and you're sharing it, you might be looking for them to have that same reaction. [00:14:07] Speaker A: Right. [00:14:07] Speaker B: But kids will respond in a million different ways. So if their response is, can I get a grilled cheese and play minecraft, that doesn't mean that they didn't hear you. It might mean that they're not emotionally ready to sit with the feelings of it. So I love that reminder to just follow their lead. Some kids naturally are curious and they're going to have a hundred questions. Others are going to shut down on you. They don't want to talk about it anymore. Be open to not having to. Like you said, JD, prescribe the moment. Or like, if someone is, Can I get a grilled cheese? You don't need to go, how dare you? That's completely inappropriate, right? We are uncomfortable as human people with sadness, hurt and those really tragic moments. And so it is okay to follow your kids lead. You're opening the conversation. You're letting them know that you're there. You're reassuring them, but then you're following where they go. You're going to think about this whole time, what's their age? What's their stage, what's their state? Answer little kids questions with more generic and basic answers while giving your older, more mature kids more complexity, more nuance. That's just good. Adulting, I guess, is just being responsive to that. [00:15:19] Speaker A: And when you say generic, you mean probably the most easy to understand answers, right? Yeah. Only thing I would add to this would just be as time goes by. And particularly if it's something that was directly affecting that child or their regular routine of life, if it's loss of a teacher or of a sunday school teacher or a friend that they regularly see. I would encourage you to not just have the conversation once, but to just check in on them over the next few weeks. Hey, just want to check in and see how you're doing and how you're feeling since we lost so and so. Have you been thinking about it more? Did you have any questions? Did you want to talk about it anymore? I just want you to know I've been thinking about you, and you're completely free to come and talk to us about that or to just be able to be sad, like, understand that you can do that. I think just kind of reassuring and reminding them as you go. We want to work to fight against teaching our kids to bottle that stuff up or teaching them to dismiss feelings that come through. Because the way we become healthy I was going to say as adults, as people, is to walk through hard things and figure out how does it affect us and how did it make us feel and what do we need to then be able to move forward with an understanding of what happened and what it meant for us and how it felt? There's a cross country coach I had growing up, and he used to always yell at us. We had a very hilly home course. And if you've ever been a runner or you've ever walked anywhere in life, hills are terrible. As a human, it's just not fun to go up an incline like that. And so he used to use that for life metaphors all the time. But he would be like, you can't run around the hills. You can't run around the hills because if you're running a race, you get disqualified if you just cut out the hard part. Right. And he would always remind us that was life, too. Life's going to throw you hills, and you can't run around the hills. You got to walk them. So sometimes that means that you got to adjust your pace. You got to go slower. Sometimes that means that you're the kind of person that you want to go and process through and push through hard stuff to get to the other side. Some of you want to take it slowly and go. It's up to you. The only non negotiable is that you got to go through it, not around it. And so we can't act like it didn't happen. We got to process through that time. And it's painful and it's difficult, but it's a necessity for us. Okay, the next thing on your list, Becca. Provide reassurance routines and choices to establish fellow safety. [00:18:14] Speaker B: I know there's a lot to unpack there, but there's just a harsh reality that we cannot protect our kid from experiencing pain, or from hearing about pain, or from being exposed to tragedy. If you just think about the news cycle, there are horrific, horrible, unbelievably, unthinkable things happening. And if you were to scroll back, if you were to just keep scrolling back every couple of weeks, there's something else. There's a natural disaster. There is something involving terror or war or violence, there is something involving loss. So that's just a reality of life. And we want to take time to reassure our kids emotions, communicate that we are present with them. And with kids it is so important to lean on those routines and rituals that they're used to, to reestablish felt safety as much as they're able to. If the event is especially impactful to your kid, give choices, give them, hey, let's have some time to process this. Or would you rather keep going? I'll share a personal example. I was in fifth grade when 911 happened. And I can remember as clear as day when our teacher sat us down and told us, now I lived in a different time zone, so I was hearing about it in the morning, although it had happened the day before, so I had already heard about it at home. I had watched it on the news. How old are you in fifth grade? Like as an eleven year old, I'm taking in these images and everyone's feeling scared and nervous and we go to school and our teacher did all these things. She thought about us, she opened the conversation, she leaned into it, she told us what it was. And then I so clearly remember JD. She was saying, OK guys, let's take a class vote. Do we want to keep talking about this or do we want to do our next thing? Which would have been spelling or math or whatever. And every single one of us said, we just want to do spelling and math. So we were able to communicate at our age and our stage in our state, we want to feel normal. I think about other times in my life when I couldn't make that. I had to sit with degree. It was too close. It wasn't a far away event on the news. It was like a personal event. And I couldn't step up and go to math class. Like I needed a minute. So depending on the situation, depending on your kids age, even their personality, one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do was sit with a group of third through fifth graders and tell them their beloved teacher had passed away very suddenly. That is a hard space to sit in. And what we did before is we met as a staff, and we came up with three places that the kids could go and choices on what to do. So there was a teacher who was like, I am okay to have our normal day with the kids that want to do that. [00:21:04] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:21:04] Speaker B: Another teacher sat and wrote cards and letters to family members and friends and drew pictures and had that moment of, like, let's just sit with it. And then there was a third option of more sensory. Like we had weighted blankets and music and a different experience. And so I'm not saying that that is the model for everyone, but it worked well. [00:21:27] Speaker A: That's what you guys needed. [00:21:28] Speaker B: It worked well because it gave them the autonomy to say, look, I'm sad, but I got to go to math. I can't do this or I'm so upset I cannot do math. I need to do this. You won't always have a chance to do it that way. But what are the choices you can build in to give them the autonomy to let you know kind of where they are and how they're processing? [00:21:51] Speaker A: Gosh, that's really good, I think, as we kind of wrap up here, and this is by no means an exhaustive list of stuff, but these are just kind of like our bullet point guides to the situation. But one that is probably instinctive for most of us or that we do naturally think of is to show empathy and compassion. Those are two things that when somebody else is experiencing grief and loss, that is something that never runs out. Right. Mo was the first person ever heard it, and I don't know who the original quote is from, but he had a thing in his old office that just said, compassion doesn't have a shelf life, and there's no expiration date on it. There's no sell by or Best Buy date on Compassion. It is good forever. It never runs out, whether it's directly related to it or if it's just kind of like kindness of family and friends. Just reminding your kids, reminding the people that are affected by this that you love them, that you're there with them, and trying to stay away from kind of fixing phrases like, hey, it's going to be okay. Don't worry about this. I know this is sad, but we can stay away from that, or, I know this is really scary, but the dismissive type statements and situation can often cause more harm than good, because we teach kids that if something is really hard to not think about the hard thing and to think about how it'll be over. And in life, not everything has that luxury, right? So we want to teach them how to sit with that. No, this is scary. And you can ask any questions you want to ask. You can know that you're safe with me or whatever. So I think there's that kind of language. But allowing kids who feel these things in a more intense way than others to feel those things and to let them know that your presence is there, like you're there to be able to sit with them during a really hard time. [00:24:03] Speaker B: I like what you said too. You said, show your kids empathy. And also, I like thinking about what you're talking about modeling, that they can show empathy. They can extend it out. I don't know who to quote because it's so widespread. But you can't do everything. But you can do something. It's kind of like something I like to think about with tragedy. So I couldn't do anything as a fifth grader about 911. There was nothing I could do. But I could write kind letters to my classmates, or I could help my mom make dinner, or I could giving them a pathway forward can be really meaningful and impactful. If there's a tragedy that's local, you can send letters, jump on meal trains as a family, help folks out in real life with bigger tragedies. It's harder, but maybe your family is interested in donating or giving. And instead of you just doing that as the adult, talk to your kids about it. Hey, we talked about something real hard. This doesn't fix it. But I do want you to know that as a family, when stuff like this happens, we look for ways to give and to help and to support. And that's just an option, kind of a way to help them transition. Give them a little bit of something that feels a little productive. Another quote I want to share from one of our very favorite people ever, carissa Woodwike was talking recently about how do I sit with people in hard things? And she shared a phrase that we've started to use kind of around the office, because it's really impactful. And what she shared was looking at someone in the eye and saying, what happened to you matters to me. And she was saying it as kind of an opposite of instead of saying, I'm so sorry because I'm so sorry could sound kind of dismissive or like you don't care as much. She was saying, instead of anytime that I would want to say I'm so sorry that that happened, instead flipping it to what happened to you really matters to me. And I've found myself with friends walking through hard things. I've found myself using that phrase a little bit more just to be able to communicate what I mean, which is, I'm with you. It matters to me. You matter to me. At times, the tragedy is so far away. Other times, it's right up in our backyards. It's right up in our homes. These are general tips that can guide the conversation, but they're not exhaustive. And if your kid, your family, your community has experienced some kind of tragedy and your kid is really struggling to process it, after you've taken these steps, even, please don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional that specializes in kids who can walk alongside. There's lots of complicating factors that we didn't get into as to why some things might be extra difficult to process for some of our kids. [00:26:42] Speaker A: Yeah, I'm so glad you said that. That is sort of the backstop you have as a parent. Sometimes we're going to feel like, this is difficult, but I can do this. And I mentioned ripping up the Band Aid earlier, and there are things that we might have an amount of fear about, but the difficulty is in initiating the conversation, not in knowing how to navigate it. And so some of those more complex situations or when the reactions are more complex than you're expecting, there are thousands of licensed therapists and professionals around the country, around the world, and then even, as we know, on several platforms online now where telehealth is available through different platforms that are not paying us to advertise. So I'm not going to say their website right now, but you can find them. And so I would say that's something just to keep in mind, that there are people whose whole job is to help you navigate really tough stuff, and when you need that help, get that help. I think that's all we've got to say. [00:27:52] Speaker B: Becca yeah. I would say you're not alone. If you're a parent who's like, I haven't talked to my kids about tragedy ever, it's not too late to start opening the conversations. If you're somebody who's like, no, I've been trying, but my kid is really not working. They're not doing okay. Don't be alone. Find help, find support. But no matter where you are, be responsive to your kid and your situation and your family and just pay attention to how they're doing. But it is scary. So I'm not going to say don't be scared, but I am going to say you're not alone and you can do it. You can sit with them. You can slow down. You can open the conversation yeah. [00:28:32] Speaker A: And just do it together. Yeah. Rebecca thank you. Well, great stuff from Becca today, and just a conversation that I think is so needed for all of us to have. I would just encourage you again, like what we closed with. Sometimes things are going to be difficult, but you can do it. Sometimes things are difficult and get really complex, and then you need to seek out other help. Don't get stuck there. Don't be too afraid at that point to then reach out for help. And so whether that's first to a friend or family member or if that's to a local therapist or counseling center or something like that, that's great. Otherwise, you can. Look online, different resources, but don't sit idle when you get stuck in those moments. Definitely reach out, whether it's to a friend or to a professional to begin getting the help you need, if that is what you need in that moment. So take care of yourself. Obviously, we can't take care of our kids without taking care of ourselves. And so that's my last reminder on that. In a completely different tone and probably too abrupt of a transition, I'll just remind you that November twelveTH, we have our first ever Global Connection event. It's our fundraiser for Empower to Connect, which is happening in Memphis, Tennessee. But you were invited no matter where you are. It's going to be a night with Nate Bargassi, who is, I would just say genuinely a world famous comedian. He is hosting Saturday Night Live this coming weekend. He is a clean comedian and somebody that, if you have not watched his stand up, sit the family down tonight, don't even eat dinner yet. Like eat dinner while you're watching this. Sit down and watch his latest special. It's hilarious, but we would love to have you. So we're having Nate come and do an hour of completely original unreleased comedy with us, November twelveTH. And we're going to get to share a little more about what we're doing at Empowered to connect what the future has to hold for us and try to raise some money so that capacity can be built to meet the challenges that are coming down the road for us, both in Memphis, in the state of Tennessee, and globally around the world. So we're so, so excited about it. For more information to get tickets, head to Empoweredtoconnect.org slash Investing in Hope. Or you can click the link below in the show notes. And that's all I've got for today. So for everybody here at Empowered To Connect, for Kyle Wright, who edits and engineers all of our audio, for Tad, you at the creator of the music behind Empowered to Connect podcast. And everybody here ATC I'm JD. Wilson. And see you next week on the Empowered to Connect podcast.

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