Anxious Kids and Scary Headlines

newspaper dispensing machine

I sat down to do some work yesterday…okay to check facebook…but then I was totally going to work…honest!  But, like many Canadians, my day got very sidetracked.  I was glued to the situation in Ottawa, worried about the safety of friends and family who live there, worried about those who lead our country, and those who protect us by risking their lives, and at times losing those lives.  I was/am worried about what it means for our country going forward.  Yesterday was filled with emotion for me – fear, anxiety, relief, sadness, hope, and pride are only a few.  And in my classic style I can’t just feel these emotions, I have to analyze them and decide if they are justified.  Am I overreacting?  Underreacting?  Feeling the right emotions at all?

News stories have always affected me deeply, especially the ones that are close to home.  I feel guilty about that last part.  That I can detach myself from the everyday tragedy that is happening in other parts of the world, but when it is something that is closer to home it consumes me.  I justify it by deciding that it’s a necessary protective shield that I have built around myself.  If I feel everything this deeply I won’t be any good to anyone.  It’s the nature of the sensitive personality I suppose.  Maybe it’s a cop-out, but it’s the best I can do right now.

I am also married to a sensitive man, and we have sensitive children.  When Nerdguy was young his mother had to forbid him from watching a certain Toronto news station because he would sit glued to it and be filled with fear for days and nights.  Now we have a daughter who has a lot of anxiety, an excellent memory, and the logic skills of a MENSA president.  Those things make for a terrible combination.  She can come up with scenarios that other kids her age would not think of, she remembers every fact she has heard, and knows how to discredit any reassurances that you can give her.  Her mind is always working.

We find ourselves sheltering her.  All parents shelter their kids to some extent.  It’s finding the right level on the protectiveness scale that we struggle with.

There are a lot of real things that directly affect Molly that she worries about, so we talk to her about those in a realistic but age-appropriate way.  We work on strategies for staying calm.  We practise positive self-talk.  We breathe.

There are also a lot of unlikely fears that she has.  Like there being a bear in the yard, and it crawling up her wall and climbing in her window.  That’s a night-time favourite.  At 2am it’s easy to say “There are no bears in Burlington, and I have never in my life seen one outside of a zoo.”  All true.  Except that one black bear that ran through the suburbs and was shot by the police.  One time!  Not likely to happen again, so I felt pretty confident in my statement.  Until a kid at school mentioned it last month.  Old news kid.  Time to recycle those newspapers.

And then this week’s middle of the night terror was courtesy of Molly hearing at school about coyotes on the loose.  Last month an electricity assembly had her hysterical until midnight.  Two years ago an adult talked about someone that she went to high school with who set a fire in the school because he didn’t want to be there.  This is not a nostalgic story to my anxious child – to her it is a cautionary tale about what any of the kids around her that don’t want to be there might do one day.

If you have anxiety or an anxious child, you know that all the logic in the world does not stack up as high as the tower of worries.  Undoing the damage from hearing something scary can take years.  I think a lot of people think that I am overprotective, and maybe I am, but I just don’t see why I would add to my daughter’s pile of things to worry about if I don’t have to.

And that is what I am struggling with today.  How much to tell the kids about what happened in Ottawa.  It’s not like talking about strangers, or fire safety, where we have to have the hard conversations for her protection.  But she likely will hear something about it and it’s better to hear from us.  Oh how I wish they were my tiny toddlers again.

What have you told your kids?  Do you hold back from your more anxious children?

If you are unsure about how to talk with your kids, here are some resources that I found that may help:

Tips on how to talk to kids about Ottawa shootings

Helping our kids deal with tragic news

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