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Using 'Trial Balloons' & the 5 W's to Create a Conversational Comfort Zone
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In the last section, we discussed four questions that children exposed to stressors created by secondary or media exposure to a terrorist attack may ask. These five questions that children may ask about terrorists are, what is a terrorist, why do terrorists act so crazy, why do terrorists pick buildings with people in them, why do terrorists say that God is telling them to attack people, and is it ok to hate terrorists?
In this section, we will discuss four aspects of helping parents create a "conversational comfort zone" for children experiencing stress due to secondary or media exposure to a terrorist attack. These four aspects are the 5 "W"s, acknowledging feelings, offering concrete information, and offering ways to cope with feelings.
Diane, age 37, came to see me after becoming disturbed by the conversations the children she watched after school were having with each other. Diane stated, "Just yesterday, I heard my seven year old daughter Angie talking to her best friend Ben about how to recognize bombs! They had some real crazy ideas, but just realizing they were thinking about bombs scares me!"
I stated to Diane, "These days there is so much information out there that it is difficult to prevent kids from having access to adult information. By creating a "conversational comfort zone," you can encourage Angie to come to you to get help understanding the information she has collected."
4 Aspects of Helping PArents Creats a "Conversational Comfort Zone
♦ Aspect #1 - The 5 Ws
A first aspect of creating a conversational comfort zone is the 5 Ws. I stated to Diane, "A critical first step in responding to a child’s concern is to determine what he or she actually knows. In journalism, this is called the 5 Ws, who, what, where, when, and why. There are certain kinds of questions you can ask to open up a conversation with Angie. For example, rather than asking Angie, ‘who told you that?’, you might ask, ‘what do you know about that?’ or ‘what have you heard about that?’
These kinds of questions acknowledge that Angie is out in the world learning about things, and that they might know a few things that you don’t. You might also consider asking Angie what her friends are saying or thinking about her concern, and then follow that up by asking what she thinks. Often, being asked by an adult what he or she thinks makes a child feel good about him or herself, and feel more willing to open up." I also encouraged Diane to try to use these 5 Ws when she and Angie were engaged in play.
Have you found, as I have, that asking a child about his or her concern while playing may encourage an easier dialogue?
♦ Aspect # 2 - Acknowledging Feelings
A second aspect of creating a conversational comfort zone is acknowledging feelings. As you know, if an adult tells a child "don’t worry about that", the child is likely to think that worrying is bad, or that they are stupid for worrying. This in turn makes them less likely to want to talk about their concerns.
I stated to Diane, "An expert named David Walsh suggests that one of the best ways to acknowledge a child’s feelings is to send up ‘Trial Balloons’. When Angie tells you something, summarize what she has told you, and without assuming you are correct, repeat it back to her and ask, ‘have I got this right?’ If Angie says no, ask more questions until you get it right. Don’t feel as if you have to get it right immediately. Angie will recognize and appreciate that you are trying hard to listen to her and understand her feelings."
♦ Aspect # 3 - Offering Concrete Information
In addition to the 5 Ws and acknowledging feelings, a third aspect of creating a conversational comfort zone is offering concrete information. I stated to Diane, "The best way to correct Angie’s misinformation is to offer her correct, age appropriate answers." I reminded Diane that children under the age of 10 think concretely, so simple, factual information is best.
I stated, "It is true that many of Angie’s questions may be covers for her underlying anxiety. But it may be better for her for you to answer her questions directly, rather than trying first to pinpoint her underlying fears. If you don’t know how to answer Angie’s question, you might simply state, ‘that’s a good questions’ and invite her to look up the answer with you." I also reminded Diane that when people get frightened, whether kids or adults, they tend to lose perspective. I encouraged her to remind Angie that events such as terrorist attacks are extremely rare.
♦ Aspect # 4 - Offering Ways to Cope with Feelings
A fourth aspect of creating a conversational comfort zone is offering ways to cope with feelings. Clearly, one of the best methods parents can offer children to help them cope with and express their feelings is through drawing, painting, or writing. I stated to Diane, "Another method you can use to help Angie cope with her feelings is to invite her to come up with something she can do to make herself feel better.
"A classic example of this is a child lining his or her stuffed animals up to guard against nighttime invaders. It is important to ask Angie, ‘what can I do to help you feel better? More safe? Less frightened?’ Coming up with a solution of her own may be something Angie will enjoy. It will give her a feeling of accomplishment, and this active response will likely make her feel better."
I suggested that Diane might also try the Emergency Plan technique to help Angie cope with her feelings. I stated to Diane, "Children, like many adults, do better if they have a plan to anchor their anxiety. You can rehearse your emergency plan over and over with Angie to make her feel more secure.
"A simple emergency plan might be just for Angie to tell you right away if she hears any more about bombs that might be around, so that she can be sure you know. You might also get the whole family together to create an emergency response kit, including packing an emergency kit with water, snacks, a first aid kit, and a flashlight and making sure that everyone in the family knows where it is."
Think of your Angie. Would encouraging his or her parents to make an Emergency Plan benefit him or her?
In this section, we have discussed four aspects of helping parents create a "conversational comfort zone" for children experiencing stress due to secondary or media exposure to a terrorist attack. These four aspects are the 5 "W"s, acknowledging feelings, offering concrete information, and offering ways to cope with feelings.
In the next section, we will discuss four aspects of helping parents of children traumatized by secondary or media exposure to terrorist attacks learn how to manage their own fears when talking to their children. These four aspects are; explore your own fears first, express and acknowledge your fears, remember that your fears are not the same as the child’s, and deciding whether to bring up traumatic news with children.
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