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When crises happen on a local, national or global level, constantly watching the media coverage can cause you to experience the very real phenomenon of vicarious traumatization.

“What people often don’t realize is you don’t have to be present at a traumatic event to be traumatized,” says licensed clinical social worker, Pam Johnson. “Just hearing something can create a traumatic event in your mind. Add the visual of repeatedly watching the news segments and you can create some real anxiety. The deeper mind does not differentiate what is happening in real time and what happened in Texas to someone else.”

Think about the last time you watched a scary movie and you realized your heart rate increased and you became jumpy and tense. Your body reacts physically because your mind does not know you are not actually part of the scene you are watching.

“People have to be careful how much they expose themselves to because it can become toxic,” Johnson says. “The human mind cannot be in a creative problem-solving mode and a fight-or-flight mode at the same time. It is like trying to put a car in drive and reverse at the same time.

“If we want a productive response to what has happened, individuals have to calm themselves down and get their emotions under control. Then we can have effective dialogue and begin asking questions such as, ‘How have we gotten here? What can we do to get ourselves out of this place?’”

While emotions are understandable, they are often not helpful. If you feel them, be mindful of them, but don’t let them direct your behavior. If people run around angry and frightened, the problems will only get worse.

Johnson offers a few tactics to help you constructively deal with your anxiety:

  • Limit the amount of time immersed in media. If you just cannot pull yourself away, take a pulse check – literally. If your pulse is high, stop watching. Be mindful of your feelings. Are you angry? Anxious? Tense?

  • Take action to reverse the anxiety. Go for a walk. Meditate. Get involved in constructive conversation with others. Pray.

  • Focus on things over which you have control. Get adequate rest. Eat healthy. Watch sitcoms or movies that don’t aggravate stress. Do things that are calming and soothing to you. Create an emergency plan with your family. Discuss what you would do if you heard gunfire in a public place.

“Most importantly, I would tell people to learn to talk so people will listen and listen so people will talk,” Johnson says. “This is a crucial need in our society. We need to learn how to listen for the need and the heart of another person.

“It is a trait of human beings to look at differences in other human beings and attach a negative meaning to the differences. This has been a protective measure in humans since the dawn of time. Hundreds of years ago humans needed this defense mechanism. Today it is not helpful. We have to remember, it is not us against them. It is all of us against violence.

“The only way we can move beyond this problem is when people are willing to listen. It is through listening that the deeper mind has the time to discern that the person might think differently, but that does not necessarily make them dangerous.”

While no one can predict future incidents, everyone can do something to help make a significant positive difference. What will you do?

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

You probably recognize this childhood rhyme, but is it true?

Social media posts, letters to the editor and rants to American newspapers increasingly spew angry and hateful words. In the spirit of supposedly expressing opinions and being helpful, writers name-call, judge from afar and are just plain mean. The words are cringeworthy, yet the writer somehow believes they are acceptable. Are we crossing a line?

The words we use can either build others up or tear them down. Is our society so angry and insecure that we need to tear others down to feel good about ourselves? Can we discuss an issue without verbally attacking someone?

In 2014, pop artist Taylor Swift took things to a whole new level. Responding to the hateful things people say about her, she wrote Shake it Off – and it skyrocketed to the top of the charts.

In an interview, Swift told Rolling Stone magazine the meaning behind the song.

“I’ve had every part of my life dissected — my choices, my actions, my words, my body, my style, my music. When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off.”

Shake it Off has become an anthem for millions striving to shake off haters, players and fakers in their lives.

There’s another childhood saying, too: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.” Either we have forgotten the saying’s wisdom or a whole generation apparently never learned it.

In Let it be Christmas, Alan Jackson sings:

“Let anger and fear and hate disappear. Let there be love that lasts through the year.”  

We all have hearts and minds. Some hearts harden over time and are a little rough around the edges, while other hearts are broken and in despair.

So, what would happen if we remember that the words we speak and write have power? Communication has power to incite anger, discourage and create distrust among people. It can also encourage, give hope, affirm and bring out the best in people.

Our words matter. If we intentionally give life through our words and actions, can it make a difference?

Tired of the so-so communication in your marriage? 

Check out this hefty DIGITAL E-BOOK by Marriage Researchers & Therapists!

Inside, you’ll find:

  • How and why you and your spouse communicate differently, and what to do about it
  • 5 proven listening techniques that will pump up the intimacy in your relationship
  • 4 ways to start and end difficult conversations well
  • 5 ways you may be hindering communication with your spouse without realizing it
  • AND MORE!

PLUS! Every section has an easy, no-stress discussion guide created for you and your partner to build the communication you want in your marriage.

Conflict. Just saying the word makes some people break out in a sweat while others want to run for the hills. Surprisingly, some people enjoy engaging in conflict, although most people prefer to avoid it at all costs. While many think that conflict is bad, it’s actually neither good nor bad; it’s what you do with it that can create either a negative or positive experience. The reality is, conflict is part of life. The good news is, engaging conflict properly can lead to some really powerful outcomes.

Life can be stressful for sure. We often face complicated situations that require navigating differences of opinion, problem-solving and sometimes, agreeing to disagree. One of the greatest things parents can teach their children is the art of managing and/or resolving conflict at home, at school, in the community or on the job.

If you are a parent, consider how you currently handle conflict. You’ve probably heard that it’s always best if your kids don’t witness an argument, but taking your disagreements behind closed doors all the time isn’t necessarily helpful. It’s a learning experience when young people see their parents disagree, work it through and make up. That’s the first step in helping children prepare for dealing with conflict in their own life, especially in those moments when you aren’t around.

It’s also helpful if you don’t step in every time your child disagrees with someone. Instead, ask your child about the issue at hand so they learn to identify what they are irritated or angry about. Then ask what they think their next best step might be. This will help them learn how to think critically and brainstorm potential next steps. It may be tempting to just point things out to them, especially if you are in a hurry, but it’s far more helpful in the long run to teach them how to do this for themselves.

Ask your child about their role in the conflict. It’s easy to assume it is totally the other person’s fault when both parties may have contributed to the situation at hand. Helping your young person understand how they may have contributed to the issue could give them some insight into their own behavior and how they might want to handle things differently in the future.

Before deciding what happens next, it is wise to address the feelings connected to the offense. Stuffing those feelings doesn’t help, but neither is physically attacking someone or doing something else to get back at them. Teaching children how to constructively handle their emotions will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the best lesson is experiencing how it feels to be treated a certain way. As a result, they will know how not to treat people in the future.

Finally, it’s time for your young person to decide their best next move and take action. They might want to rehearse a conversation with you before facing the other party. Writing out their plan might be beneficial. If you’re hoping for a constructive outcome, perhaps both parties could respectfully share their perspective of the situation. Even if nothing gets resolved at this point, they are making progress. 

Throughout this process, your child learns how to handle conflict themselves, which is a major confidence-builder. They will also learn how to slow down long enough to identify their feelings, brainstorm the possibilities when it comes to managing or resolving the conflict, and come up with a constructive way to move forward. These tools can’t be purchased at the hardware store, but they are certainly valuable ones to have in their toolbox.

One of the biggest challenges of parenthood is explaining to your children about bad things that happen in our world. How do you talk with children about violence, death and other issues that are often difficult for even adults to handle?

Examine your own feelings first. It is difficult to talk with your children if you have not evaluated your feelings about what has happened.

For example, talking about death makes many people uncomfortable. Our first inclination is just not to talk about it. Somehow we believe that not talking about it will protect our children. The truth is, instead of protecting, we may cause more concern. It is our responsibility as parents to teach our children constructive ways to deal with tough situations.

Bad things happen and parents need to be armed with appropriate ways to deal with the bad things that happen as well as the feelings that accompany the situation. Children need information, comfort and understanding to help them process different experiences. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers.

Is Silence Really the Answer?

While your first inclination may be not to talk about what has happened, often the best thing you can do for your child is to engage them in conversation. You don’t have to say everything at once about a topic. It is best if you don’t because children are easily overwhelmed.

When trying to talk with children about bad things:

  • First, listen carefully to your child.

  • Try to clarify exactly what your child wants to know – sometimes we make assumptions and give far more information than the child needed.

  • Keep your answers simple and brief.

  • Be honest.

  • Be sensitive to their need to talk about the issue – not talking about it can make children more anxious.

What if I blow it?

Sometimes parents choose not to talk about a subject because they think they are going to blow it and saying the wrong thing will harm their child for life. The truth is, sometimes we do blow it as parents and that is okay. It is rare that one conversation will cause irreparable harm.

Tell the truth

Honesty is the best policy. This does not mean that you tell a child everything about a situation. There are some things that a child does not need to know. You should share enough information to help them understand what is happening and to help them deal with their feelings. Whatever you do, do not be dishonest.

Teaching children about feelings

One of the most important aspects of helping children understand bad things is helping them identify and deal with their feelings. Feelings are not good or bad, they just are, but how we choose to deal with those feelings is significant. Children can often sense when something isn’t right. This can produce anxious feelings for a child.

Children seem to intuitively know when something is not right. Children want their world to be neat and ordered. When something seems out of kilter, children tend to react out of fear and anxiety. Parents can help ease some of these feelings by talking about the situation and helping children identify their feelings. This exercise gives children valuable information they can use for the rest of their life. Children need a strong vocabulary of feeling words (afraid, anxious, scared, sad, mad, happy, excited) to attach to what is happening inside. To say, “This is a sad thing,” or “This is scary,” helps children to understand that feelings are natural and normal. This is all part of life.

In this process, the message you’ll want to send your child is, “We can find ways to deal with this.” 

To quote Mister Rogers, “Whatever is mentionable is manageable.” Asking questions such as, “When you are scared, what makes you feel better?” helps children begin to process and feel like they have some control over the situation at hand.

There are no cookie-cutter approaches

Finally, experts caution that each child will respond differently to bad situations. Some children will become very quiet while others will become very active and loud. Don’t be afraid to trust your intuition. You know your child better than anybody else. As a parent, your job will be to stand by your child and guide them as they deal with their grief, anger, pain, feelings of uncertainty and sadness in their own way. Our world is a changing place. We can help our children feel safe and more in control by helping them to talk about these issues. Through this process, your child will learn one of the basic rules of life that with time healing can take place and things often get better.

Experts suggest that you:

  • Listen carefully to what your child says.

  • Try to clarify exactly what your child wants to know – sometimes we make assumptions and give far more information than the child needs.

  • Keep your answers simple and brief.

  • Be honest.

  • Be sensitive to their need to talk about the issue – not talking about it can make children more anxious.

Needs of a Grieving Child (taken from Hospice.net)

  • Information that is clear and understandable at their development level.

  • Reassurance that their basic needs will be met.

  • Involvement in planning for the funeral and anniversary.

  • Reassurance when grieving by adults is intense.

  • Help with exploring fantasies about death, afterlife and related issues.

  • Ability to have and express their own thoughts and behaviors, especially when different from significant adults.

  • To maintain age appropriate activities and interests.

  • Getting help with “magical thinking.”

  • Being able to say goodbye to the deceased.

  • To memorialize the deceased.

Help Your Child Build a Strong Feelings Vocabulary

Happy

Proud

Strong

Important

Cared for

Appreciate

Respected

Honored

Cheerful

Liked

Courageous

Hopeful

Pleased

Excited

Smart

Gloomy

Impatient

Unhappy

Disappointed

Helpless

Uncomfortable

Resentful

Bitter

Sad

Hopeless

Guilty

Unloved

Hurt

Angry

Abandoned

Research on what makes marriage work indicates that happy and healthy couples demonstrate a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative behaviors in their relationship.

This means there are five times as many positive interactions between happy couples (i.e. listening, validating the other person, using soft words, expressing appreciation, affirmation, physical affection, compliments, etc.) as there are negative (i.e. raising one’s voice, stating a complaint, or expressing one’s anger).

Tips for improving the quality of communication in your relationship:

  • Be intentional about spending time together talking. The average couple spends only 20 minutes a week talking with each other. Turn off the technology and make it a point to spend 20-30 minutes a day catching up with each other.
  • Use more “I” statements and less “You” statements. This decreases the chances of your spouse feeling like they need to defend themselves.  For example, “I wish you would acknowledge more often how much work I do at home to take care of you and the children.”
  • Be specific. When issues arise, be specific. Broad generalizations like, “You do it all the time!” are not helpful.
  • Avoid mindreading. It is very frustrating when someone else acts like they know better than you what you were really thinking.
  • Express negative feelings constructively. There will be times when you feel bitterness, resentment, disappointment or disapproval. These feelings need to be communicated in order for change to occur. BUT – How you express these thoughts is critical. “I am really disappointed that you are working late again tonight,” is very different from, “You clearly do not care one whit about me or the kids. If you did, you would not work late every night.”
  • Listen without being defensive. For a marriage to succeed, both spouses must be able to hear each other’s complaints without getting defensive. This is much harder than learning how to express negative feelings effectively.
  • Freely express positive feelings. Most people are quicker to express negative feelings than positive ones. It is vital to the health of your marriage that you affirm your spouse. Positive feelings such as appreciation, affection, respect, admiration, approval, and warmth expressed to your spouse are like making deposits into your love account. You should have five positive deposits for every one negative. If your compliments exceed your complaints, your spouse will pay attention to your grievances. If your complaints exceed your compliments, your criticism will fall on deaf ears.

Tired of the so-so communication in your marriage? 

Check out this hefty DIGITAL E-BOOK by Marriage Researchers & Therapists

Inside, you’ll find:

  • How and why you and your spouse communicate differently, and what to do about it
  • 5 proven listening techniques that will pump up the intimacy in your relationship
  • 4 ways to start and end difficult conversations well
  • 5 ways you may be hindering communication with your spouse without realizing it
  • AND MORE!

PLUS! Every section has an easy, no-stress discussion guide created for you and your partner to build the communication you want in your marriage.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***