By Sarah Laury, LCSW, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017 –
If you find it difficult to talk to your children about the scary things happening in our world today, you are not alone. What is the best way to address tragic events they may see and hear about on the news?
Start by asking your child questions. Find out what they already know.
As parents it’s natural to want to shield your child from scary stories on the news, but this is not always possible. In addition to radio and television, they may overhear conversations at restaurants or doctor’s offices or even hear about things from other kids at school.
It’s important to find out what they already know so you can help them process it and answer any questions they may have. Your child may ask you why something such as an act of violence happened.
As parents, it’s natural to want to be able to answer all of our children’s questions. But remember that we don’t have all the answers either. It’s okay to be honest and tell our children if we don’t know the answer.
Don’t promise your child that they will be safe or that nothing bad will ever happen to them. Instead, tell them what is being done to help those affected by the tragedy. As Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Point out emergency personnel and how they are assisting the victims. Help your child understand what steps are being put into place to help the victims of a tragedy and to avoid future tragedies.
Avoid graphic details or images if possible. Start by turning off the TV. When a disaster or tragedy strikes, the news tends to play the same graphic footage over and over again.
Dr. David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, recommends that if you decide to watch the news with an older child, it is helpful to record it and watch it by yourself first. This way you can screen the content first, and recording it will also give you an opportunity later to pause and talk with your child about what you’re seeing.
Children process their feelings in different ways than adults. Simply asking your child about their feelings about a traumatic event might not be enough. Children do not always know how to put their feelings into words. Sitting with your child and drawing a picture or playing with toys might allow another outlet for exploration of feelings.
Validate their feelings by letting them know it’s okay to feel sad, scared or angry. Resist the urge to argue with your child about his or her feelings. Instead of saying, “Don’t be scared,” try asking your child what their specific fears are. If you are scared, be honest and let your child know that you are scared too. Explain what you are doing to cope with the fear. Assure your child you are doing everything you can to keep them safe. Let your child know the ways in which you and other entities such as the government, police, etc. are taking steps to ensure their safety.
Some signs that your child may not coping well with a disaster/tragedy: Change in sleeping patterns; change in appetite; physical complaints such as stomachache, headache, or irritability; changes in behavior such as suddenly becoming more demanding or clingy; suddenly becoming anxious when separated from parents.
If you have any concerns about how your child is coping, talk to their pediatrician or school social worker about your concerns.