* Talking to Your Child About Scary News

By Sarah Laury, LCSW, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017 –

If you find it difficult to talk to your children about the scary things happening in our world today, you are not alone.  What is the best way to address tragic events they may see and hear about on the news?

Start by asking your child questions.  Find out what they already know.

As parents it’s natural to want to shield your child from scary stories on the news, but this is not always possible.  In addition to radio and television, they may overhear conversations at restaurants or doctor’s offices or even hear about things from other kids at school.

It’s important to find out what they already know so you can help them process it and answer any questions they may have.  Your child may ask you why something such as an act of violence happened.

As parents, it’s natural to want to be able to answer all of our children’s questions.  But remember that we don’t have all the answers either.  It’s okay to be honest and tell our children if we don’t know the answer.

Don’t promise your child that they will be safe or that nothing bad will ever happen to them.  Instead, tell them what is being done to help those affected by the tragedy.  As Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’”

Point out emergency personnel and how they are assisting the victims.  Help your child understand what steps are being put into place to help the victims of a tragedy and to avoid future tragedies.

Avoid graphic details or images if possible.  Start by turning off the TV.  When a disaster or tragedy strikes, the news tends to play the same graphic footage over and over again.

Dr. David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, recommends that if you decide to watch the news with an older child, it is helpful to record it and watch it by yourself first.  This way you can screen the content first, and recording it will also give you an opportunity later to pause and talk with your child about what you’re seeing.

Children process their feelings in different ways than adults.  Simply asking your child about their feelings about a traumatic event might not be enough.  Children do not always know how to put their feelings into words.  Sitting with your child and drawing a picture or playing with toys might allow another outlet for exploration of feelings.

Validate their feelings by letting them know it’s okay to feel sad, scared or angry.  Resist the urge to argue with your child about his or her feelings.  Instead of saying, “Don’t be scared,” try asking your child what their specific fears are.  If you are scared, be honest and let your child know that you are scared too.  Explain what you are doing to cope with the fear.  Assure your child you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.  Let your child know the ways in which you and other entities such as the government, police, etc. are taking steps to ensure their safety.

Some signs that your child may not coping well with a disaster/tragedy:  Change in sleeping patterns; change in appetite; physical complaints such as stomachache, headache, or irritability; changes in behavior such as suddenly becoming more demanding or clingy; suddenly becoming anxious when separated from parents.

If you have any concerns about how your child is coping, talk to their pediatrician or school social worker about your concerns.

* Thinking Outside the Planter Box: The Benefits of Gardening With Your Children

By Sarah Laury, LCSW, Courier & Press, May 16, 2017 –

Every year as springtime rolls around we are welcomed by signs of the changing seasons.  The grass starts to green, the days get longer, and the flowers start to bloom.

For me, one of the most exciting signs that spring is around the corner is that my seed catalogs arrive in the mail and the hardware stores open their garden centers for the season.  In my family gardening is a tradition, and we involve our children in all parts of the process. We work together to plan, plant, harvest, and of course enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Many people are aware of the nutritional benefits of gardening with children.  Gardening allows children to have a better understanding of where their food comes from, and various studies have shown that children who participate in growing their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, even developing a preference to fruits and vegetables over other snacks.

Besides the nutritional benefits, there are also many important psychological benefits to gardening as a family.  First, gardening is a great way to incorporate exercise and physical activity into your child’s routine.  When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, or “feel good hormones.”

In addition to this, exercise has been shown to decrease stress levels and increase serotonin levels in the body.  Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter in the brain and is thought to be partially responsible for influencing mood as well as anxiety and depression.

Gardening also requires the gardener to slow down.  Because we live in such a fast-paced and electronics-focused society, it is more important than ever to encourage our children (and ourselves) to practice mindfulness.  By definition, mindfulness is “the state of being conscious or aware of something” or the ability to focus on one particular thing without distraction.

Gardening is a great way to teach our children to be mindful.  When you garden, you have to be aware of the needs of your plants in order for them to flourish.  Are they getting enough water?  Are they getting enough sun?  Do they need to be weeded or fertilized?

In addition to being mindful, taking care of other living things such as plants can help children gain a sense of responsibility and purpose or belonging.  In addition to being in the moment with your garden, caring for a plot has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

In an experiment published in the Journal of Health Psychology, gardening was compared to reading as a stress-relieving activity.  Test subjects that gardened experienced a more significant decrease in stress when compared to the subjects that were assigned to read.

You don’t have to live in the country or even have a yard in order to experience the benefits of gardening with your children.  You can reap these benefits whether you have rows upon rows of crops, a window sill herb garden or even a single potted tomato plant on your patio.

If you would like to learn more about gardening with your children, please visit the website for the Purdue Extension office in Vanderburgh County at https://extension.purdue.edu/Vanderburgh/pages/default.aspx.