Recently, our world seems to be filled with one tragedy after another, with no end in sight. Whether it’s a natural disaster that wiped out hundreds, or even thousands, of people or the breaking news of terrorist attacks around the world, it’s bound to be shared and reported on all over the media. It’s hard enough for adults to comprehend and cope with these horrible events, but what about our children? As adults, we have many different outlets to express our sadness, fear and support, from sharing our love on social media to protesting against ghastly conditions and groups to many calls to action in an effort to assist victims.
How do our children cope with the same catastrophic news that we are exposed to on a daily basis? Depending on their age, may kids may not fully understand what’s happening in the world. However, they are intelligent and intuitive, and most can easily pick up on cues, whether it’s from you, a teacher or someone else. It can be difficult to approach kids, no matter what age, but if we feel fear and disbelief, can you imagine how our children feel? How do we, as parents, help them feel secure in such an unsecure world?
The number one thing to do is to remain calm. If your children see you handling the stress of heartbreaking news in a composed manner, then they are more likely to feel soothed and mimic your behavior. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel sympathy. We’re human, and we all feel emotions; just remember that our actions are impressed upon our kids. We need to try to focus on speaking and acting in ways that comfort and reassure our children.
Although each child is different in what they can handle emotionally, there are general guidelines for talking about tragedies with your kids. For younger children under nine years old, be uncomplicated in your explanations without going into details. Be supportive and comforting during your discussion. Older children will be better adept at handling more information, but use caution when deciding what to share. There are many age-appropriate ways for dealing with events and tragedies that happen in our world.
- Preschool kids don’t need to see or hear about something that will only scare the daylights out of them, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.
- Ensure them your family is safe. At this age, kids are most concerned with safety and separation from you. Try not to diminish or discount their concerns and fears, but comfort them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe.
- Keep the news away. Turn off the TV and radio news at the top of the hour and half hour.
- If they are aware of the issue at hand, offer physical reassurance. A hug and kiss go a long way ( It is common for children to regress after hearing about world tragedies such as this which may call for more physical comfort, sleeping in the same room, and the need for more verbal reassurance cues like “I love you” or “I’ll be right back when you leave the room.”)
- Talk about and filter news coverage. If you let your kids use the Internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply shocking. Do your best to monitor where your kids are going, and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals. Also be selective about how much exposure your child has to the replay of events.
- Be available for questions and conversation. At this age, many kids will see the morality of events with a closed mind as they are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. Be careful about making generalizations, and be aware that kids will take what you say to the bank.
- Ask them what they know, since they’ll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.
- Carefully consider your child’s maturity and temperament. Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, however, if your kids tend to be on the sensitive side, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.
- Encourage any questions – Ensure your child feels as though they can approach you to ask questions as much as they need. Sometimes a child will process a tragic event much later and come back to you again for more discussion. Remind them that questions are welcome.
Ages 12 and up:
- Let preteens and teens express themselves. Many in this age bracket will feel passionately about events. They may be filled with empathy and personalize the event if someone they know has been directly affected. They’ll also probably be aware that their own lives could be affected by violence.
- Try to address their concerns without dismissing or minimizing them. If you disagree with media portrayals, explain why so your teens can separate the mediums through which they absorb news from the messages conveyed. Be truthful with them and again, remain calm.
- Encourage them to write about it and leave your home a safe place for discussion on the topic whenever they feel the need to talk.
- Check in. Sometimes, your older child may have heard the news before you can explain it. Be open to talking with them and offer any insight you have. Help them have a healthy sense of politics, justice, and morality. Make sure not to dismiss theirs ideas and thoughts, since that will shut down the conversation immediately.