Talking to Your Children About Tragedy in the News

as of 6/11/2018

The recent 4th of July week has been particularly tough for us as a nation and for many parents. Unfortunately as a result, we are having many deeper conversations with our children about tragic events happening both in the US and worldwide.

If you have children who are tweens and older, they are likely exposed to these events through some form of social media, while younger children may have seen or heard something at friend’s homes or in public places.

There is a wide range of responses depending on, for example, how much exposure your child has to the news, the age, and the temperament of your child and yours/their personal experiences. Below are some recommendations on how to talk with your children about tragic events in the news:
  • Pre-school kids: Shield them as much as possible from tragedies. If they are exposed, simple explanations are important. A candid response such as “A bad man hurt a lot of people and the police helped to keep people safe so he could not hurt anyone else” is sufficient at this age.
  • Elementary school kids: Discuss the facts that are known so they get the information from you. The younger the child is, the more simply the facts should be stated. Some children of this age see things in black and white and there is a wide spectrum of understanding the gray in between. You know your kids best and can judge how thorough your answers can be.
  • Teens: More detailed discussion may be necessary and as they get older, their frame of reference may depart from yours and they may have differing opinions of why or how an event occurred. This is a great opportunity to engage in a dialogue that can open the doors to why they think/feel that way.

  • All ages:
  1. Stay calm or at least maintain a calm demeanor.
    • Avoid replaying the events as is often done on TV and in social media.
    • Monitor social media use for older tweens and teens.
  2. If you haven’t already, have the kids park their cell phones outside their bedrooms at night to avoid constant notifications that affect sleep.
  3. Be respectful of his questions and be honest (there is a whole range of honest) without being too graphic.
  4. Try to teach or reiterate key things in situations that call for it such as a person is innocent until proven guilty. If there are situations that your kids or yourself may encounter, talk about how they might handle it or how you would. If you have made mistakes in handling similar situations do not be afraid to admit that. It is important for children to know that their parents or guardians make mistakes and can talk about it.
  5. For older kids, leave the door open to continue the conversation especially if conflict develops because of a difference in opinion.
  6. Keep things in perspective. If you truly think so, do your best to explain the unlikelihood this would happen to her or a family member and with regards the most recent tragedy, unlikely to happen to other police officers.
    • For my 8 year old I would say “It is very unlikely because our police department has a great relationship with the people in our community.”
    • For an adolescent “Statistics show that it is extremely unlikely and crime is down, although awareness and media coverage of crime is up.”
  7. Maintain routines - continue outdoor play, sporting activities, play dates and all the things your children usually do. Keep regular bedtimes, meal -times and maintain consistency as much as possible.
  8. Encourage outlets if your kids want to help. I like these suggestions from a Dallas psychologist- Dr. Nicholas Wester:
    • Help younger kids write a letter to the families of victims or make cards.
    • Help older kids start an activity to generate funds to contribute if that is needed.
    • Kids can also volunteer for local community groups that may promote ideas that address issues that arise from or caused the tragic event.
Tragedy in the news may affect some children profoundly and they may show signs of anxiety or symptoms may worsen for children who tend to be anxious. Signs of anxiety may include sleep problems, crying easily, nail-biting, and wanting to spend more time with you. Children may even start manifesting anxiety as physical symptoms such as headaches and abdominal pain.

If anxiety becomes more pervasive in school, home and other areas of your child’s life, or if it does not improve over time, please call our office or talk to your child’s psychologist or counselor.

To find out more about talking to your kids about tragedies in the news here are additional resources: - Clovene P. Campbell M.D.

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