​Real-Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: Staying Informed While Keeping Kids Safe

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on September 10, 2020 # Lifestyle

Michelle headshotEvery time I tune into the news, whether it be on the TV, the radio, Siri, Alexa, or Google, my eyes roam the room while my ears listen for the persistent thud of little feet. I’m less worried about the actual feet than the eyes, ears, and hearts that are attached to those feet. It’s hard to balance safeguarding their minds and souls while staying informed. Staying immersed in children’s programming might keep them safe. Still, it will also keep me grossly under-informed about the state of everything. I reached out to individual & family therapist, Michelle J. Pugliese, MA, LPC, ACS to help me forge successful middle-ground. She noted that based on children’s ages, their responses to the media would vary based on their maturity and the actual content that is presented. Pugliese says, “more attentive or sensitive kids will likely be more attuned to news content and aware of the facial expressions and nonverbal cues, including tone, voice, and volume. This attention to such details can affect the intensity of their emotional response.”kids posing

She further explains that as children are naturally egocentric and concrete thinkers, constant exposure to specific news related to traumatic events such as major accidents, pandemics, and graphic depictions of violence can be overwhelming for their young minds to process. They use their imagination and creativity to make sense of what they’ve seen, which can lead children to conclude that the events around them will happen to them.

As much as I love to watch Elmo, I also need to know what’s going on locally, nationally, and globally. I’m neither a “news junkie” nor a “doom scroller,” but I don’t want to glean my information from social media. Pugliese encourages parents to access reliable news sources when kids are around from mobile devices, computers, and to use earbuds when watching video clips. She cautions that if you are watching the news with your children in the room, do so mindfully when the content becomes more serious, change the channel, or turn off the TV. In case your child asks, Pugliese notes, “Explain to your child why you had to take that action as it sends the message that ‘I’m looking out for your best interests. I’m here to protect you.’ “ She encourages parents to communicate to the kids that they will share any important information that they need to know with them.

For ages seven and under, Pugliese suggests age-appropriate educational content that’s easier to process, such as Sesame Street’s town hall episodes. She encourages parents to talk about news events in simple, accessible language and about why it is essential to have these discussions. “Encourage them to ask questions. It’s also ok to tell them that you may not have the answer.”

For older kids, have age-appropriate conversations about news events. “Encourage your child to ask questions, to share their thoughts and feelings of the event, and validate their thoughts/feelings.”

Use video to your advantage, highlighting good acts from our medical professionals, neighbors, kids, etc. Pugliese notes that the YouTube show “Some Good News” is excellent at highlighting that in times of trouble, there are good people who show up.

It is important to “keep in mind that we don’t want to over-protect our children from everything on the news.” Pugliese stresses that children are good “emotional barometers” and will notice that “something is off” at home. As parents, we are their “home base” or their symbol of safety and security. It is important to fill in the information gaps, but we do not have to share every detail. “If you’re scared, then they’re scared. If you’re tense, then they’re tense.” She encourages parents to let kids know that the news can be sad and scary, but also reassure them that they are safe. Normalize and validate their feelings, help label, or identify their emotions is part of the journey to processing complicated feelings. Open communication on this challenging journey saves anxiety, anger, depression, and behavioral problems in the future.

Although these are in unprecedented times of constant exposure to negative information, react to it and teach your children to respond to it will teach them healthy media consumption and emotional habits they will tap into for the rest of their lives.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.lease check out Kieran's Instagram @kierieo.