Talking to Your Children if They Feel Marginalized

Rebecca Ford-Paz, PhD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Colleen Cicchetti, PhD, Center for Childhood Resilience, offer important steps you can take as an adult to support your children. 

Tips for Talking with Kids Who Feel Marginalized

Model adaptive coping and emotional control

  • Communicate that you will keep them safe.

Ensure and promote safety

  • Many of the racist and xenophobic things people say or do are not only wrong, but also against the law. Reach out to authorities and leaders who can help hold individuals accountable for promoting hatred.
  • Help youth identify safe spaces and safe adults who can speak up and advocate on your behalf.

Connect with social support and decrease sense of isolation

  • Universities and schools can offer circles of support and other safe spaces for marginalized students to express concerns and seek support
  • Connect with faith communities – source of support for many refugee/immigrant communities 

Raise awareness of organized support for refugee/immigrant/LGBTQ rights

  • Just knowing that there are organizations who will safeguard their rights is reassuring to youth.  Increasing their sense of agency and ability to influence their environment and their future promotes their hope. By donating or volunteering with these organizations, adults and youth increase social support and sense of control over their situation.
  • It’s important not to challenge, diminish or dismiss a young person’s fears that anti-LGBTQ prejudice—or racism, sexism, or other biases—will harm them. However, reassure them that there are people and organizations who will help.
  • Affirm LGBTQ identities by actively showing support for LGBTQ youths’ orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Support can include helping the young person attend LGBTQ youth groups, advising or attending the LGBTQ student groups at your school if you are an educator, or including a young person’s LGBTQ friends in family events if you are parent or family member. 

Promote healthy coping

  • Reestablish family/school routines
  • Teach relaxation
  • Talking and spending time with others
  • Distraction
  • Maintain routine
  • Use humor
  • Schedule pleasant activities
  • Exercise
  • Journal
  • Avoid substance use and isolation
  • Monitor and limit media use, reducing exposure to images and messages that repeat or echo original traumatizing events.

Familiarize yourself with signs of psychological distress and signs of potential suicidal thoughts

These may include:

  • Withdrawing from family/friends
  • Dramatic mood change
  • Threatening to kill him/herself
  • Talking, thinking, writing about death, dying, suicide
  • Feeling hopeless/helpless
  • Uncharacteristically reckless behaviors
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Exposure to others’ suicidal behavior 

For more information and resources, visit the Pritzker Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and the Center for Childhood Resilience

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