In the past few weeks, every time you turn on the TV or hop onto social media, it seems that all we see is devastation—hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, a huge earthquake in Mexico and now the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Bad news seems to be everywhere and constantly on the news.
How do we talk to children about all this bad news? To calm children’s fears about the news, parents should be prepared to deliver the truth, but only as much truth as a child needs to know. The key is to be honest and help kids feel safe. There’s no need to go into more details than your child is interested in.
Although it’s true that some things — like a natural disaster — can’t be controlled, parents should still give kids space to share their fears. Encourage them to talk openly about what scares them.
Tips for adults
The National Association of School Psychologists has a list of 15 tips for adults when talking to children about acts of war and terrorism. They are.
- Model calm and control.
- Reassure children they are safe and so are the important adults and other loved ones in their lives.
- Remind them trustworthy people like emergency workers, police, firefighters and doctors are helping people who are hurt and are working to ensure that no further tragedies like this occur.
- Let children know it is OK to feel upset.
- Tell children the truth. Don’t try to pretend the event has not occurred or that it is not serious.
- Stick to the facts. Don’t embellish or speculate about what has happened.
- Be careful not to stereotype people or countries that might be associated
with the violence.
- Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
- Maintain a “normal” routine.
- Monitor or restrict exposure to scenes of the event as well as the aftermath, particularly through social media.
- Observe children’s emotional state. Depending on their age, children may not express their concerns verbally.
- Be aware of children at greater risk of mental health problems or suicide.
- Provide an outlet for students’ desire to help. Consider making get well cards or sending letters.
- Keep lines of communication open between home and school.
- Monitor your own stress level.
For more specific actions broken down into age groups follow these guidelines:
- Under age 5—keep your kids away from this stress. Do not have the news blasting from every medium. In particular, keep the TV off. You can follow the news yourself more discreetly every few hours.
- Between 5 and 10—and is asking about or talking about a disaster, be mindful of your tone of voice and choice of words. Keep your own emotions out of the equation, and in a calm tone of voice, say that natural disasters are unpredictable—you can use the word “surprising” for younger kids—but as scary as they are, friends, family, the community, and local and national governments all come together to help each other. Highlight the goodness of human nature and shift the conversation in a more positive direction. Address the feelings, acknowledge them, and then move to comfort. Be sure to give hugs, hold hands, and generally use the power of touch (it’ll do wonders for you as well).
- A tween or teen—he or she is as exposed to the news on social media as you are. Feel free to enforce temporary digital boundaries if you feel their moods are being affected. Help them make good choices and monitor them—not in an intrusive way but by keeping an open dialogue going. Children in this age group are also less likely to express their emotions.
- An adolescent or young adult—open up a dialogue with them. Once our kids are out of sight, we assume that they are grown up. But those who have recently left home or are in college may have fears like “what if this happens to me, while I’m away from home.” Discuss emergency plans with them, and if you don’t have an emergency plan, set one up! Unless you are in a danger zone, take a few days and chart out a plan first. More importantly, keep your finger off the panic button, so you don’t panic your kids who are away from home.
In the classroom, teachers may consider introducing meditation. See all the benefits and check out some apps for the classroom in the blog: Keep Your Classroom Healthy with Meditation.
Regardless of your children’s age, there are positive actions you can take to uplift your family’s mood. Begin by helping others through the various donation hubs set up for a disaster. Ask your kids to contribute from their own allowance, even as little as a dollar. The best way to express compassion is by being compassionate.