When the World is Sad and Scary: How to Talk to Your Girl About Hard Things
As parents and caregivers, we all want our girls to have the opportunity to grow up in a better, safer, more loving world. When tragedy, violence, or conflict appears in our backyard or on our screens though, it can feel difficult to know how to talk to them about what they are seeing or hearing in a meaningful and productive way. While we can’t always shelter our children from sad or scary news, parents and caregivers can help shape how they interpret and understand what’s happening around them.
“It’s important for adults to remember that having conversations with their children about difficult events has a tremendous impact on how these events impact them,” says Katarina Corda, MEd, MiT, the senior director of program development for Girls on the Run International. “Having intentional conversations about hard things happening in the world can help reassure girls and remind them they have adults in their life who are there to help them through. It can also help them begin to develop tools they can use to cope with tough stuff they may encounter in the future.”
As you consider how to navigate big conversations with your girl, keep the tips below in mind.
Start with open-ended questions
Sometimes kids know a lot more about scary events than we realize, and sometimes they know a lot less. Start by asking your girl what she knows about what’s going on. Once you have an understanding of her working knowledge, it will be easier to correct any misconceptions, refute any misinformation, and talk through any of the unknowns that may be causing her more worry or distress than you realize. Depending on your girl’s age and understanding of the events, you can fill in any gaps and answer any questions that she has with more or less detail.
Reflect on (and share) your own feelings
Many parents and caregivers feel overwhelmed by difficult events as well. Before you talk with your girl, take some time to consider your own feelings. You may notice you feel sad, angry, scared, confused, or even numb. These, and many other feelings, are all normal emotional responses to tragic or overwhelming events. When you talk with your girl, let her know it’s okay to feel a range of feelings – including both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions. Share a few of your own to normalize that even adults have big feelings.
Identify how you cope, and model it for your girl
After noticing your big emotions, reflect on how you cope with these feelings. Often, things like spending time with loved ones, journaling, disconnecting from the news, moving our bodies, finding ways to help, or talking with others about our feelings can help us avoid becoming overwhelmed. (We cover this in our curriculum when we discuss how to move the clouds that dim our inner Star Power.) Ask your girl what helps her feel better when she is feeling sad or scared, share one of your strategies with her, and then choose something that works for both of you to do together. Take some time to do whatever makes you both feel better and then check in and help her notice any shifts in her feelings or mood.
Empower them to make the world a better place
Girls often want to do something to help when they see others in crisis. While things like donating money or important supplies can feel and be meaningful, be sure that your girl knows that making positive change in her own community also helps make the world a better place for all. Our GOTR girls have experienced this through their Community Impact Projects. Help her brainstorm ways she can make a positive impact and give her the tools she needs to make it happen. Remember, even if her ideas don’t connect directly with the sad or scary events she’s seeing or experiencing, the act of doing something good can help her world feel a little bit brighter.
Keep the lines of communication open
While some girls may not seem to engage deeply with hard conversations and others may want to talk more than you realized, there’s a lot of value in letting your girl know you’re always available to her. Tell her explicitly that you’re available to answer any questions she may think of later or to listen as she shares new or recurring feelings, and then do your best to be present and focused if (or when) she does come back to you with more on her mind.
Just as we tell our girls that they can make a difference in the world by leading with an open heart and striving to do good, it’s important that we remember the same about ourselves. By talking openly and intentionally about hard things you’ll be helping your girl make sense of the world and helping to raise a whole generation of girls who are capable of creating the better world we all hope for.