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Having Tough Conversations with Your Children

10 Nov Having Tough Conversations with Your Children

The Advent School’s psychologist, Dr. Rebecca Platt, Psy.D, sat down with parent Ali Johnson to talk about coping strategies that can be used when families are faced with difficult situations. With the controversial rhetoric of the presidential election, the stress of the upcoming holiday season, as well as everyday worries, the start of the school year has been particularly difficult for children.

When there is uncertainty and tension in our city, it is felt by even the youngest members of society. Faculty, staff, and parents are facing questions from children about their future and how they will be impacted by change. The strategies that emerged from the conversation between Dr. Platt and Johnson may not be new to Advent families, as they are practiced daily in our classrooms. They are, however, unparalleled reminders in how we can manage stress during current and future events.

As specified by Dr. Platt, at the heart of it, children want to know three things in times of stress:

  • Am I safe?
  • Are the adults in my life looking out for me and will they take care of me?
  • Will the relationships I have with others change and, if so, how?

Dr. Platt recommends that adults try to manage their children’s anxieties in numerous ways. A safe starting place is to leverage the established principles of your family. If there are values that are shared and vocalized in your family, start with those.

If your family does not already have something in place, you can use The Advent School’s classroom agreements as jumping off points. Advent classes, Early Childhood through Sixth Grade, start each year with a constitution that will help guide the class through the year.

The classroom constitutions, or agreements, are created as a combined effort by each Advent classroom. They vary by class, as each student is given the opportunity to contribute to their constitution. All constitutions share the message of mindfulness and conflict resolution. They are signed by every student in the class; the children are thus held responsible in acting and reacting to situations in ways that fit within their classroom constitution.

The constitution in one of Advent’s Fourth Grade classrooms focuses on the student’s “Hierarchy of Needs”. These five self-identified needs outline the expectations that are assigned to students in the classroom. They read:

Self-Actualization: We will work hard to achieve our goals.
Esteem: We will take pride in our work, our community and ourselves.
Love/Belonging:  We will be supportive and inclusive to all.
Safety: We will make our classroom a safe environment.
Physiological: We will come to school ready to learn.

Similarly, the constitution in younger classrooms span several behavioral expectations. The agreement in one First Grade classroom reads:

  1. Give it a try.
  2. Be kind and respectful to everyone.
  3. Be present.
  4. Be careful with our bodies and materials.
  5. Be flexible.

Applying concrete values to your family’s practices is a gateway to setting the tone that talking — about both difficult and less worrisome topics — is a normal part of your day or week. Remember to ask your kids what they think, know, and feel, while trying not to project how you feel. This will help them remain confident in voicing and asking questions about what they are feeling or hearing, which some children do more easily than others.

As an adult, managing your own anxiety before reacting to your children’s feelings can be half the battle. If an issue is a trigger for you, try to be aware of your reaction. You don’t have to pretend to be unaffected by something, but know that your reaction will color how your child feels. And, remember that conversations are best when the subject is not “charged.”

Additionally, don’t feel pressured to respond to your kids immediately. You can always do more research or think about your answer. Saying, “I want to think about that some more before I answer you,” can show that you care about answering your child in a genuine and informed way. When you do respond, be authentic in your response. Your child will know if you are not.

Above all, don’t forget that you are human. You will make mistakes or wish you had handled something differently. Give yourself a break. Showing that you are owning your mistakes, and remaining honest throughout the entire process, is great modeling for children to see.