It seems that over the last few months we have been inundated with horrible tragic news occurring worldwide. Planes crashing into the ocean, mass shootings, forest fires, hurricanes and tornadoes and floods destroying entire cities. And the list goes on. How is one supposed to process these terrifying events? And more so, how are we expected to help our children understand what is going on when we ourselves cannot?
In our home, for the most part, we do not watch the news in the presence of our three children. There are too many acts of violence making the headlines these days, and we do what we can to not expose our children.
In recent days however, both my two older children came home from school having heard about the three incidents that took place in Orlando. First was the shooting of singer Christina Grimmie by a deranged fan. Then the mass terrorist shooting in a gay bar leaving 49 dead and many more traumatized for life. Then a few days later, the horrible drowning of a toddler who was dragged to his death by an alligator, in front of his parents. At the precise hotel that our family stayed in when we went to Disney.
The truth is there is no right way to discuss these tragedies. But our children need answers and validation for their fears.
Tips for Explaining Tragic News to your Kids:
Tip #1 – Limit exposure to footage of the tragedy
As much as possible, limit our children’s exposure to actual footage of a tragedy…there is no need for them to see news reports of gun shots or bodies or tornadoes taking down houses….It is one thing to explain it in words, but it is a lot harder to limit their anxiety once they have the actual images in their heads.
Tip #2 – Reinforce that they can always talk to you
Reinforce to our children that they are always safe coming to us with their questions, no matter how difficult the questions might be. We always want to encourage them to talk about their feelings, because by talking about feelings, we are better able to process what we are thinking. We must never diminish our children’s feelings by telling them not to worry.
Tip #3 – Limit the details
We do not need to provide large amounts of details to our children. In fact, it is best to answer the specific questions that they ask. It is not necessary to share the whole story. We can respond with the simplest answer necessary and in language that corresponds to their cognitive level and intellectual ability.
Tip #4 – Offer practical reassurance
It is always a good idea to offer practical reassurance. For instance, if my 11 year old, who is generally an anxious kid, would ask me about a report she saw about pieces of an airplane being retrieved after it crashed into the ocean, she would most likely be ruminating on the thought of flying and subsequently tell me that she does not want to fly in an airplane ever again.
At this point, providing factual information would alleviate her anxiety. I would explain how many flights take off per day and arrive safely at their destinations. I could also show her statistics on air safety.
Tip #5 – Speak as concretely as possible
Parents should always speak as concretely as possible about such events. For instance, try not to speculate as to why someone would shoot up a nightclub. The truth is, we do not have all the answers. We can, however, say that the shooter was obviously not thinking clearly or he must have been very confused, and that most people would never do such a horrible thing.
Children need to understand that these tragedies are not the norm, and that they should never be afraid to go out and live their lives for fear that something awful might happen.
Life is scary. And that is the truth. There are so many tragedies that occur every day in various parts of the world. It is sad and depressing. If we spend all of our time dwelling on the details, we would become too afraid to leave the house.
Children look to us for safety and security. And we can only protect them for so long. As they get older, they too will understand the enormity of the world’s tragedies. But hopefully nestled in that will be their own determination to not allow their fears and anxieties inhibit them from experiencing all the good that this world has to offer.
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