When tragedy happens, how to help children understand – News

A family communication and social support expert, Samantha Shebib, Ph.D., offers her expertise to help guide these complicated and difficult conversations.

Children and Tragedies StreamSamantha Shebib, Ph.D., family communication and social support expert, offers her expertise to help guide intricate and difficult conversations about tragedy.As difficult as it may be, says one communications expert, explaining difficult topics in the news to kids is something parents need to do.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Samantha J. Shebib, Ph.D., a family communication and social support expert, offers her expertise to help with these complicated and difficult conversations.

Shebib emphasizes that while it may be a difficult subject to discuss with children, it cannot be ignored.

“Whether it’s on social media, in the news, or by talking to friends at school, kids will find out about it, and sweeping it under the rug doesn’t do the kid any good,” Shebib said. “Children under the age of 8 will have a harder time processing the information; But there are still smaller conversations, like school safety protocols, that will stand them in good stead.”

Her first recommendation is that the parents start the conversation; but most importantly, let the kids talk a lot.

“Let them express how they’re feeling, their concerns, and whatever else they want to discuss,” Shebib said. “As parents, it’s time to listen.” Try not to give them too much information up front; just listen to what they have to say.

“Secondly, be careful about giving them untrue support. Things like “this wouldn’t happen to you” or “you don’t have to worry about it” are some examples. The sad reality is that untrue support is the least helpful and least effective support, and these statements are simply things we cannot say because we do not know if they will match reality. As we have seen, this can happen to anyone.”

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Shebib insideSamantha J. Shebib, Ph.D.
Photography: Lexi Coon
Shebib recommends acknowledging children’s fears by acknowledging them. For example, “I totally understand your concerns and I’m always there to talk to you if you’re scared or scared.” Shebib also thinks it wise for parents to do their research and reiterate the safety precautions being taken at the school, they visit.

“This helps both the parent and the child feel more secure, and if the school needs to take more precautions, this would be an ideal time to attend your local school board meetings,” Shebib said.

Middle and high school age children may be looking for solutions to help manage the anxiety they are feeling.

“Older kids and even adults love to act because it feels good. It’s a way to proactively channel our fear,” said Shebib, assistant professor and associate researcher in the Communications Department at the College of Arts and Sciences and co-editor of Relationship Research News.

Taking action and channeling that desire into something useful also helps build resilience.

“Whether it’s attending rallies, starting a support group, or raising money for victims, all of these can be powerful ways to positively channel that fear,” she said. “But make sure that as a parent, you take the time to process your emotions and fears so they don’t rub off on the child.”

Some fear is appropriate given the circumstances. However, crippling fear is not healthy. Parents should make sure the kids are coping, and prolonged anxiety is a sign to seek professional help, Shebib recommends.

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