Talking to Our Kids During Turbulent Times

Our country is experiencing big change as we transition into a new presidential administration. No matter how you voted, it’s important to acknowledge that our children may be worried as they hear about the rise in bullying, racism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance of differences. How can parents help comfort their children in times of turmoil?
Michael Josephson, Founder, CEO and President of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, suggests anticipating what children may encounter and prepare them in advance. “Key to all of this is calm communication. Parents should have a quiet, honest conversation geared to the age of the child.” Keep it simple and sincere.

Let your children know that if they feel worried or scared by something they hear, they should talk to you about it, or talk to a trusted teacher or extended family member. During scary situations, we’re often unable to think straight or have a good perspective. Dr. Randi Friedland, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Pasadena recommends parents help their children practice a self-protective narrative in a safe place so it just flows when they need to access it. “Ask kids what they could say [back to a hurtful comment], allowing them to respond using their language at their level.” One example is “I don’t like it when you say things like that. It’s not kind.” 

Be the Calm 
 “A parent’s goal should be to instill in children a sense of calm, and put them at ease. However, if the problem is a result of the parents showing stress, then it will be picked up by kids,” says Josephson. When parents exaggerate the current situation, kids will exaggerate it five times more. “Soften your presentation and consider how it’s received from a child’s point of view. Saying things like ‘Don’t be afraid!’ when they’ve never mentioned being afraid can have the opposite result and make a child more fearful.” Look for evidence of your child’s mood before jumping to conclusions. Dr. Friedland advises parents to avoid injecting their own frustrations into any dialogue. Instead they should help children define and clarify what they’re feeling.

Have a family philosophy
 Carmit Eliyahu, a Pasadena mom of boys ages 9, and 17, the older with special needs, assures her kids that “they’re loved, they’re safe and the world will not shatter.” She also teaches her kids to speak up if they see something wrong. Her overarching message: “Respect the process and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Stay informed 
 Paris Cohen, mom of three teens from La  Canada, spent time talking with her kids leading up to and on election day believing the climate at school might be tense. What allayed her kids’ concerns was “telling them about how our government is structured and what limitations and checks and balance there are. A lot of fear is based on misinformation, but thankfully with two lawyers in family, this we are knowledgeable about.” Cohen reminded her kids about the many things that were rhetoric but not within the power of the president. “That was the biggest calming factor.”

Apply Jewish Values 
 Josephson points out the long Jewish tradition of dialogue and discussion as yet another teaching opportunity. “When we don’t like what’s happening, we can be proactive and influence things in a democracy.” Allow your children to ask questions and praise their motivation to be involved or learn more. Jason Moss, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys says, “Since we can only control ourselves, and not others, being the best that we can be is what’s important,” Moss, an MSW, and dad of a 14 and 8-year-old, says, from a Jewish perspective, “The key really is empathizing with our children’s fears, validating them. It means they care about the world.” In the Talmud, Rabbi Tarfon says that as Jews, “It is not up to you to finish the work, yet you are not free to avoid it.” Let your children get involved, and find ways that make them feel comfortable and more empowered.

Seek Help 
If your child isn’t sleeping, has changes in appetite, is withdrawing from people or from things he/she used to enjoy, regressing (e.g., bedwetting), or showing stress-related habits (nail biting, hair pulling, twitching,) it may mean it’s time to seek professional help.  _
Ronna Mandel is a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine. Youcan find her blog at


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