Imagine living in a country that tells you not only where to live, what to do for a job and what you can't talk about, but also how to style your hair. That's the reality for those who live in North Korea. And yes, there are truly only 28 approved haircuts you can choose from if you live there (18 for women, 10 for men).
There has been a great deal of conversation about North Korea this year, and while there are a lot of different opinions on what should — or should not — be happening with North Korea, the one thing most people agree on is that it's complicated. Or as one Atlantic article read, "There are no good options. But some are worse than others."
That means it can also be complicated when your kids start asking questions about North Korea. But we talked to some experts on how to tackle these tricky conversations with your kids.
Know enough about the topic to feel comfortable talking about it
It's hard to talk about something you know very little about. Kathy Wu, an assistant professor of psychology at Delaware Valley University, said when talking to children about any scary topic, the first step is understanding what you're talking about.
"If the parent presents with avoidance behaviors, appears guarded, or is ill at ease, the child will sense it and will likely not be as willing or comfortable having an open dialogue with the parent on the subject matter," she told Famifi. "Keep in mind that children often censor themselves not because they are uncomfortable, but because they don't want to make their parents feel more uncomfortable."
Pediatric psychologist Jill Fodstad said as you approach any difficult topic with your children, you need to first make sure you've emotionally processed your own response before having these conversations.
And if you're panicking because you're not an expert on North Korea, that's fine. You don't need to know all the details. You can go here for a rough overview.
Let them lead the conversation
Riley's Children Health Pediatric psychologist Jill Fodstad recommends starting by allowing your child to lead the conversation.
"Answer their questions, rather than guessing about their interests and potentially create new worries," she told Famifi.
If war, or North Korea, isn't something they've heard about or are concerned with, it's not a conversation you need to have yet. But maybe they've heard their friends talking at school about how we're all going to get nuked.
Wu suggests a wrong way to address those concerns and a better way. Don't assume you know their fears and impose your worries through your questions. For example, instead of asking, "Are you scared that we'll all die because of war?" or "Are you afraid we'll get bombed?" try these phrases instead:
"Please tell me how you learned about war."
"What does war mean to you?"
"What do you think causes war?"
"How does it make you feel to know that wars sometime happen in the world?"
These are open-ended questions. They help you know what your child is really thinking about. After they share, Wu said you should validate their feelings and praise them for sharing.
"You don't need to go into more detail than necessary, but lying to your children or making up facts will ultimately confuse them," Julia Cook, parenting expert and author of "The Ant Hill Disaster," told Famifi. "Eventually, when they find out the truth about what happened, they may struggle with trusting you in the future."
But you can do this and still use age appropriate language. Fodstad recommends these age guidelines in using age appropriate language
Preschool - Kindergarten: Keep it very simple. Give a one sentence story and focus on the basic thing you want them to take away.
6-10: They will likely ask a lot of interrogative questions. Know what you want to share and highlight. Try to shield them from photos because images are often more impactful than words. Validate their feelings and bring in the positive as well.
Tweens: Test what they know. Clarify what is factual and what is not. Validate their feelings. It's still difficult at this age to wrap their head around politics. Don't drop a lot of unnecessary information on them. Use it as a time to reinforce values.
Teens: Listen and validate. Action is important for teens. They want to contribute and think about what they can do to help the world and community. If they want to, come up with a plan on how you can both help the community.
Bring it back to peace
Yes, there are some crazy things happening in North Korea, and the world in general. But there is also a lot of good. That should be included in the conversation as well.
"This is a time you can really reinforce what are their [your children's] values and what are your values as a parent and focus more on that, not the negative." Wu recommends pointing out peacemakers and other people that are trying to do good instead.
Create a free speech ritual
Overall, the most important part is letting your child know they can talk and ask you about anything. Fodstad said some of the ways parents can do this is by being open with your child first.
"The more we are open and honest with our children about our own things that happen in our daily life, they get that message that they can talk to their parents about whatever they want to talk about."
Additionally, she recommends possibly setting up a free speech time for teens. Pick a time and make this a brief daily ritual "where they can say whatever and it will be judge free."
These ideas work with most hard topics, and starting today to create that free space where your child can come to be heard will help in addressing all the tricky things that may come your way.
For more information on how to talk to your children about the news, make sure to watch our Life Crunch series.