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A Guide For Talking to Children About Remote Violence

A Guide For Talking to Children About Remote Violence

Children today are confronted with a baseline awareness of violence higher than most adults can imagine. “Remote violence” refers to exposure to highly violent images and stories, without experiencing the violence first-hand. In essence, this is the increasing awareness children hold that something could happen to them, even if it hasn’t yet. With monthly mass shooting drills in schools, awareness of police brutality against individuals and at peaceful demonstrations, and constant media coverage of physical and emotional violence, it’s nearly impossible for this to not reach a child in some way. It’s crucial that we find ways to talk about it to help them process, ask questions, and reaffirm our commitment to keeping them safe. There is no one right way to have this conversation, but keeping these three tenants in mind can help you create a framework to apply to the situation at hand. I’ve kept this purposefully simplistic; as much as I wish there were a script I could hand you, each conversation, each event, will demand a different response. It’s better to have a conversation, even if it doesn’t feel perfect to you so release the expectation that you’ll know exactly what to say, and focus your efforts on maintaining just these three principles:


  • Be developmentally appropriate
  • Be honest
  • Be regulated


Be developmentally appropriate: 


How you talk about events like this will vary widely based on the age and development of your child. A 3-year-old may not need to be told anything, whereas an 8-year-old will likely require a conversation.  Try to match the child’s level as closely as possible, and be prepared that they may have witnessed content or conversations what were not developmentally appropriate (overhearing adult conversations, hearing teachers at school, catching a news segment on the bus or seeing a newspaper on the street). Younger children may ask questions in an attempt to understand something outside their normal experience, while older children and teens may not need information or answers to questions as much as reminders of security and support. 


Be honest


You don’t need to have all the answers are tie things up perfectly, it’s an unrealistic goal that will leave you feeling like you’ve failed despite doing the best you can. In many ways, telling your child you don’t know something (when you truly don’t) helps them trust what you’re saying and offers an opportunity to seek that information together or process the uneasiness that comes with not knowing. Except in very young children, try to resist the urge to promise safety at all times, or to lie and come up with a reason why scary things won’t ever be part of their experience. Oftentimes children are aware that an adult can’t ensure this, and they’ll wonder what else you aren’t telling them. Instead, focus on the aspects of safety they do have- in you and other trusted adults, in the protocols and procedures of their school and other environments, community resiliency, training of those in positions of protection, etc. Kids need our honesty, but again, a developmentally appropriate version of that honesty. 


Be regulated


Out of the three, this is easily the most important. It can be incredibly difficult to manage your own distress while being present for your child. If you feel you aren’t in a place of emotional regulation, wait to have this discussion until you can. For younger children, seeing their parent highly distressed is confusing and scary. For older children, it can put them in a state of overwhelm or lead to a feeling of responsibility to care for their adult’s emotions. Neither of these options offer space to process their own emotions. When we talk about emotional regulation, we don’t mean you need to pretend everything is fine (they’d see through the inauthenticity in that fairly quickly!) This only means that you’re in a place to hold space for the child’s emotions, even when they get heavy. Letting them know you feel the gravity of what’s happened is good, letting that take precedence when they need you for support is what we try to avoid. It’s even ok to engage your child in the coping strategies you use to get to that place of regulation, it will help you be most present for them, and model healthy coping strategies they can use when they were overwhelmed. 


If you take one thing from reading this, please know that the specific words you choose in these conversations are significantly less important than how you show up in the conversation.  Remember, your goal in these conversations is not to take their fear and pain completely away, only to guide them through it in a way that helps them feel as safe and secure as possible as they navigate a world that can be both scary and beautiful. 




Teen Mental Health: Post-Pandemic Edition

Teen Mental Health: Post-Pandemic Edition

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had profound effects on the mental and emotional well-being of our society. Rates of mental health struggles have skyrocketed in response to experiences of isolation, grief and loss, economic hardship, safety fears, and increasing...

After School Connection: Let’s Find A Better Option Than “How Was Your Day”

After School Connection: Let’s Find A Better Option Than “How Was Your Day”

You’re with your kids at the end of the day and you want to connect with them, hear about their day, and be a resource for anything they’re struggling with. For most people, the question that slips out almost automatically is “how was your day?”. What comes next is usually some mixture of “fine” or a general shoulder shrug, then silence. Your kid is feeling unsure of how to proceed or what to say, and you’re left feeling frustrated that your connection attempt hasn’t worked. Here are some options to replace that age-old question. See which ones your kid responds to, and get ready for some authentic, connective conversation!


What made you laugh today?


Did you feel (nervous, angry, sad, etc.) at any point today?


Did you help anyone today? Did anyone help you?


How did you feel loved today?


What interesting questions did you ask today?


What does your body need for the rest of the day?


What do you wish people at school knew about you?


Can you tell me about an adult at school you like (or don’t like)? 


Is there anyone at school you want to get to know better?


What do you hope happens tomorrow?


While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the question “how was your day?” it can be overwhelming and some kids struggle to know where to start because of how general it is. More specific questions give them a starting place, and if you can tailor them to something specific you know about their day (ex: an assignment they were worried about, a lunch item they were excited to try, a friend they hoped to play with), those small details signal to your child how important you think their experiences are. 


Pick one or a few questions each day, but try not to make it feel like a pop quiz. Some kids respond well to knowing exactly what questions are coming, and others like the novelty of new ones, so experiment with switching between these two options. Timing and delivery can also be important here; imagine you came home from work and the second you opened the door, someone was requiring you to recount the details of your day. Sound stressful or overwhelming? We often do that to kids when they get off the bus or slide into the car. Try a warm greeting to let them know you’re excited to see them, but pause until they’re settled before you ask anything. Try the phrasing “I was thinking about you today and I wondered….” It’s a gentle lead-in but also clues them in that you thought their day was important enough that you thought of it while they were gone. 


If you’re still not getting much engagement, don’t be discouraged. You can always flip the roles and model for them by telling them about your day instead. Remember, the goal here is not to get your child to talk to you, it’s to connect with them in a way that’s engaging and comfortable for them, and some days or for some kids, that can be as simple as silence while they decompress from the day or listening to their choice of music. 





Teen Mental Health: Post-Pandemic Edition

Teen Mental Health: Post-Pandemic Edition

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had profound effects on the mental and emotional well-being of our society. Rates of mental health struggles have skyrocketed in response to experiences of isolation, grief and loss, economic hardship, safety fears, and increasing...

Why Setting a Strong Female Role Model is Important for Your Daughter

Why Setting a Strong Female Role Model is Important for Your Daughter

Every Halloween, little girls all over the country choose costumes that reflect what they want to be when they grow up. And each year we see many girls choosing to dress as princesses and fairies, kitty cats and maybe the odd super hero. Rarely do we see young girls dressing as executives, scientists, or world leaders.

It can seem benign enough, but it does beg the question: are young girls still under the impression their choices in life are limited? And what can parents, particularly mothers, do to set a good example?

The Importance of Role Models

If you are a runner, you probably know that for most of human history no one was able to run the 4-minute mile. In 1940, someone actually got to 4:01, and for nine years that is where the record stayed, with not one runner in the entire world being able to break it.

It seemed to everyone that the human body, no matter how fit and trained, would never be able to break that record. But then on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier, running the distance in 3:59.4.

And then a very interesting thing happened: barely a year after this feat, someone else ran a mile under 4 minutes, and then more runners did it, and then even more. Now it’s common practice for runners to run the mile in under 4 minutes.

Role models show others what is possible, and that’s powerful. Humans tend to not attempt things unless we believe it can be accomplished.

Our children learn from watching us. They learn how to think, act, and feel about themselves and the world around them. Here are some ways mothers can set a strong female role model for their daughters:

Body Image

It’s important for mothers to encourage their daughters to be healthy and strong, but not to obsess over beauty. It’s not enough to talk the talk. The brain has mirror neurons that facilitate social learning. That means you do not need to explicitly shame your daughter about their body to impact their body image adversely. No, a child’s brain sees how their mom looks at their love handles in the mirror and learns in that moment that “my fat must be bad too.” Moms have to model positive thoughts, behavior, and love for their bodies.


Unless they are shown otherwise, young girls may grow up assuming they must constantly please others and never say no. Moms, it’s important to show your daughters that setting boundaries is healthy and necessary.


Confidence comes from a mindset that failure and mistakes are merely chances to learn. It also comes from knowing strengths and abilities as well as limitations. In other words, confidence is a byproduct of knowing and accepting our authentic selves.

Are you having a hard time being the role model you’d like to be? Maybe you’re a stressed-out single parent who could use some coping strategies. If you’d like to speak with someone, please be in touch. We have a counselor on our team that may be able to help.







3 Tips for Managing Technology with Your Teen

3 Tips for Managing Technology with Your Teen

Do you feel frustrated when you can’t get your teen’s attention from behind his or her phone or computer?  I can relate.  With two teenage daughters at home, I have to work hard to preserve some closeness and family time with them.

I hear all the research about how technology increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety, can affect sleep and school performance, and can lead to obesity and aggressive behavior. Oh, and did I mention that technology use can actually become our kids’ first addiction?! I don’t know about you but I can easily go into my “freak out mode” reading about all this.

Sometimes I need my husband or even my teens to rein me back in.  Technology is here to stay.  The internet is forever.  Also, how can I not consider all the benefits of the internet that we didn’t have 20 years ago: my teen can take an advanced course online (we are so thankful for Khan Academy’s helpful videos) and I can work from home sometimes and spend more time with my teens. How would we even stay in touch with my kids’ grandparents who live thousands of miles away if it weren’t for Skype and Viber.

So, I am choosing not to get stuck in the “freak out mode” and at the same time not to give my teens free rein online.


As parents, we are to guide and teach our teens how to use technology to benefit them and not to harm them.

Here are three tips that have helped me and other parents I know.  I hope you can use them as a guide to define and redefine your technology boundaries with your teen.


  1. Create a Technology Agreement Together

You know how we as parents can get easily annoyed when we cannot get our teen’s attention to do the chores or get ready to go for a family outing.

Well, having a little family meeting, creating a plan for how to manage technology in your home, and writing it down can be quite helpful. It will help you to be less reactive and more proactive in how you respond to your teen’s choices later.

Here is what one parent shared about the agreement they established with their teen daughter:

Our 14 year old daughter is allowed to be on her phone and social media only after her daily and weekend chores are completed. We turn off her WIFI until she completes her tasks. On weeknights, her WIFI shuts off automatically at 9:30, and on weekends at 10:30. We believe this is allowing her to socialize with peers, but within some parameters. My husband and I also follow her Instagram, so we can see what she posts. And we have talked about appropriate and inappropriate behavior on the Internet and the dangers of it as well. We are all just trying to do the best we can in this social media obsessed world of ours.

In my home, the agreement is that the phones get put on the charger at 9pm in the kitchen.  My girls have an alarm set up for 8:55pm to remind them to do it.  If the phones don’t make it into the kitchen on time, my teens get to go without having their phone the next day.

These exact boundaries might not work for your family, but having some plan in place about managing technology is guaranteed to improve your teen’s and your family’s life.

What kind of technology boundaries would work well for your family? Sit down and talk to your spouse and your teen about it.


  1. Set Up Digital Free Zones In Your Home

Our phones are seductive.  When our phones are near us, we are prone to ignore the people we love.  That applies to us parents as well as our teens.

Thanks to social media our teens can feel social pressure 24/7. When we were growing up, we could escape from some of the social pressure we felt once the school day was over. Our children usually don’t have many breaks.

Yes, we want our teens to be accepted by their peer group by allowing them to communicate on social media and through text with their friends, but it doesn’t need to be constant.

Consider having certain times of the day or certain places in your house to be digital free zones. It will help you to focus more on your teen and it will have your teen have a break from their electronic social life.

Family dinner time can be a good one to start with.  Invite your teen to join you by saying, “We will miss the best part of eating together by being on our phones.  Let’s charge them in another room.”

No devices in the car can have great opportunities for conversations.  In fact, many teens open up a lot more when they are side by side with their parent (as in the car or on a walk) instead sitting with them face to face.

I am also a big advocate for no phones (or computers) in a teen’s bedroom at night.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard teens share in my office, “I am so tired today.  My friend kept texting me until 3am last night”.

Consider when and where your family’s digital free zone can be.  You can make it part of your technology agreement.


  1. Randomly Check Your Teen’s Social Media

You can sit down and check your teen’s social media together.  It can be a great way to connect with your teens and learn more about their interests.

You can also randomly check your teen’s social media on your own. Though, I would encourage you not to do it in secret.  Make it part of the agreement that you will randomly check their social media accounts.  Make it known to them.

This opens up a door for you to guide them through what’s safe and what’s appropriate while they are on social media.

You get to help them figure out how to handle bullying if there is any going on in their online life. You get to help your teen explore if social media creates a sense of isolation for them.

I know you’ve taught and talked to them at length about what is safe and appropriate already.  But having random checks provides opportunities to address issues you might have never suspected to come up.

Here is what one parent shared:

We did all the teaching/talking…thought we were good.  One day I randomly checked because she had been nonstop on the tablet, getting extremely moody…found her being pressured to have cyber sex, giving out personal information, she was knee deep in online drama.

Your teen might be very emotionally and mentally mature, but it might still be hard for your teen to withstand some not-so-good choices. This is especially true if he or she is being pressured by a crush, a best friend, or someone else important in their peer group.

Please, choose to casually monitor and talk to your teen about their social media behavior.  You might just prevent them from heading down the wrong path again!

Being a parent of a teen can be exhausting.  With some planning and intentionality, managing technology with your teen can add to your peace of mind and help both of you connect more.

If technology has been a big source of frustration or barrier in you connecting with your teen, start by taking these small steps to improve this issue: create a technology plan, set up digital free zones in your home, and have random checks of your teen’s social media.

From the Author: Olya Pavlishina

I want to thank Star Meadow Counseling for letting me make a special guest appearance on their blog. Ericka Martin, with Star Meadow Counseling, also wrote a great article, “How To Make Anxiety Your Ally, Not Your Enemy,” which I’ve posted on my own website at https://integrity-counseling.com.