In light of the recent violence against Armenian civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan forces, the Glendale chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness hosted an event aimed at helping parents talk to their children about their feelings about the war.
Led by Armenian mental health providers, Fimi Haddadian and Nora Chitilian, “Parent-Child Communication: for Armenian diaspora parents coping in war” on Sept. 28 provided guidance on parenting practice during a time when the Armenian community is experiencing loss.
Chitilian, a licensed marriage and family therapist with experience as a school counselor in Armenian schools, began the discussion by acknowledging pain being experienced by the community in this time of mourning.
“Now that we lost Artsakh, we lost the homeland,” she said.
Before parents and family members can begin to make sense of this tragedy to children and loved ones, they must take time to process their own grief, Chitilian said.
When approaching this subject to children, Chitilian advises parents to begin by asking their children what they know and how they feel about it before asserting their own thoughts. Once children have a sense of the situation, parents should bring in action-oriented questions such as, “What would you like to do about this?”
“Turn that pain into purpose, productivity and power,” Chitilian said.
She also noted that sometimes children’s emotional response to the loss of Artsakh is “anger, frustration and defeat, like we are losers.” She emphasized the importance of teaching them the history to broaden their perspective. This will give children a sense of pride in their heritage and the resiliency of the Armenian people, Chitilian said.
Chitilian and Haddadian also touched on fostering an environment that welcomes emotional expression.
Haddadian, a school psychologist at Glendale Unified School District, emphasized that emotional dysregulation, such as acting out or having tantrums, is an indicator that something is going on beneath the surface. These outbursts, particularly in young children, can stem from a “lack of the skills to ask for what they need or want.”
“Instead of dismissing emotions, try to lean into those emotions,” Haddadian said. “[Tell your child] ‘I hear you, I see you and I am right here with you. We are going to get through this together.’”
This kind of open communication establishes trust between parents and children and will likely dissuade children from bottling up their emotions, Haddadian said.
To practice this, Haddadian led parents in an activity in which parents listed out specific behaviors they notice in their children and guessed what underlying emotion those behaviors stem from. The feedback from this was positive with some parents noting “aha moments” when empathizing with their children’s experiences and feelings.
Reg Clarkinia, the community programs coordinator at NAMI Glendale, explained that this event was originally intended to “address healthy parent-child communication in the Armenian community such as using positive language, modeling, avoiding shaming, understanding our own triggers and asking questions to open dialogue” in a more general sense.
“What was initially going to be general ‘Parent-Child Communication’ workshop for Armenians shifted after Azerbaijan’s attacks on neighborhoods in Armenian indigenous homeland, Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh],” Clarkinia said. “In support of the diaspora during this time when Armenian families in Artsakh are under attack, we shifted the focus to present guidance on parenting during a time of war.”
First published in the October 7 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.