HOW TO TALK TO LAW ENFORCEMENT KIDS ABOUT SCARY TIMES
Law enforcement families have been in the middle of a crisis for the last several weeks and it’s hard to know when it will feel “normal” again. Back to that average level of secrecy, when you’re careful who you tell, but not terrified for your spouse's life or worried about being targeted simply because you have a family member on the Blue Line.
As an adult, we’re all trying to make sense of how to adjust to and process the current feelings people are expressing towards law enforcement. This is even more challenging for our L.E. kids. Kids pick up on stress within the household. They hear things (way more than you think). They see things on the news. People say things to them. They pick up on what they can talk to you about and what they shouldn’t bring up based on how the adults interact with the information.
L.E. kids have a lot of information they are going to have to adjust to and process throughout their lifetime (Read more about being an L.E. kid here). I want them to know they can talk to their parents. I want them to have a safe space (home) where they can process the world around them.
Here are 5 TIPS on how to discuss hard topics with your L.E. kid.
CREATE SPACE FOR THEM TO SHARE (regularly). You can do this by having a routine time of day when you ask them things like what’s on their mind, how they are doing, what they are worried about, and what they have heard other people say. Don’t give them answers just yet. You are “Creating space” for them to express and explore whatever is in their head. Make sure it’s when you’re calm, relaxed, and not in a hurry. Some kids will come right out and ask questions on their own, but a lot of kids will catch on to what their parents don’t want to discuss and never bring it up. This leaves them with envisioning the worst case scenario or not being able to make sense of things.
VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS. Let them know you understand where they are coming from, why they might think that or feel that way. Let them know that you have similar thoughts or feelings if you do. No one wants to be told they shouldn’t feel a certain way or that they are wrong. (Continue to hold off on correcting them or providing answers).
CLARIFY FACTS. After you validate their feelings and make them feel supported. THEN you can jump in and fill in some gaps of information they may be missing and help them better understand. Do NOT overload their little brains. Keep it simple and age appropriate (different ages deserve different levels of information). Don’t be pressured into having ALL the answers. It’s OK to say, “That’s a really good question! But, I don’t know.”
REASSURE THEM. It’s important to reassure our kids and let them know they are safe or that we are safe. However, don’t be unrealistically reassuring. Instead of saying “Nothing is ever going to happen to daddy he’s safe.” You can focus on all the safety measures your officer parent takes at work to stay safe. Training, safety equipment and gear, partners/team members, not doing things alone, and the fact that they have a whole team of people who all do their best to protect one another etc.
DISCUSS COPING SKILLS. We all need ways to manage big feelings when they come up (Here's even more reasons why first responder families need them). Talk about what you do when you feel worried or nervous or sad, in child terms (read more about a spouse's self care). Brainstorm with your kid some things they can do when they are down to get through the day. Make a list. Come up with a code word they can communicate to you if they are having a big feeling. Then you can support them engaging in one of those coping skills listed. Some ideas are blowing bubbles (which mimics deep breathing), reading a favorite story, playing a favorite game, drawing, journaling etc. (read about more ways to calm your child down here). Basically things that distract them and move them into a more positive emotional space.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: Reduce intake of information for L.E. kids through media, the news, friends, family, open discussions about work. They are listening, even if they look like they are playing something else or in the other room.
If you'd like some help and more parent consultation around how to support your kids reach out to to me here. I am a child and family psychologist that specializes in supporting first responder families. I can serve any resident of California.