• Talking about Tragic Events

    Kids know more than we think

    Itis natural for parents to want to protect their children from the harshrealities of the world. However, children hear about things whether wewant them to or not. Although you may think that your child is betteroff not knowing about incidents like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or therecent shootings in Virginia, it was likely discussed on the schoolbus, the playground, or in a variety of other places and chances are,the information your child heard is at least a little bit inaccurate orexaggerated. Children rely on their parents to be safe and reliablesources of information. Your child needs to know what you think, andthe best way to reassure him is to talk about it.

    Tips for talking about things in the news

    Where to start. Withchildren of any age, the first thing you want to do is to find out whatthey know. How much a child needs to know depends on her age preschoolers dont need very many details but teens often do. However,take your cues from your child in deciding how much to discuss with her.
    • 5-8 year olds: Itis entirely possible that your young child has not heard about anevent, and there is no need to say too much if she hasnt. Find outfrom her teacher if kids have been talking about the incident inschool, and go from there. It is important to let children in this agegroup know that they are safe. Emphasize the distance between where youare and where the incident took place, and let them know that manyadults are working to make sure it does not happen again anywhere.

    • 8-12 year olds: Yourschool-age child has most likely heard about and possibly evendiscussed the event in question at school. Ask her what she knows andif she wants to talk about it. Even if it has not directly affectedthem, children at this age might feel angry or upset. Again, let themknow that they are safe and that many people are concerned and aredoing their best to prevent something like this from happening again.

    • 12-18 year olds: Yourtween or teen has definitely heard about a big event and has likelydiscussed it with peers and in school. Teenagers tend to bemelodramatic and jump to assumptions, and it might be appropriate tohave a broader, more general discussion. With something like a schoolshooting, you can talk about stereotypes, how to treat peers, or how torecognize and help troubled teens, and in the case of a naturaldisaster, you can talk about politics, organizations that help people,and different parts of the country or the world.
    Look for signs of stress.Even if your child does not want to talk about it, he may be affectedby a tragic, recent event that is being talked about. Common reactionsto these kinds of events in young children may include clinginess,tearfulness, bed-wetting, nightmares or fear of the dark, indifference,thumb sucking or nail biting, or trouble in school. According to theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents are generally more affectedby tragic events, and may be more tired and irritable and possibly eventry new and harmful things like alcohol or drugs. Talk to your childsschool and pediatrician if you see any of these things and areconcerned.

    Keep the lines of communication open.The most important thing you can do for a child of any age is to lether know that she can come to you with any questions. However, becareful how you present information, and do not give any more detailsthan you think she can handle. Questions and concerns may linger andsurface much later, so do not be surprised if your child at first seemsdisinterested in the topic because she may not process it or be readyto talk about it right away. No matter how old your child is, she needsyou, especially when the world around her is unsettled. If you arefeeling insecure, talk to another adult and calm yourself so your childdoes not pick up on your concern.

    Turn off the TV.We know that children are affected by what they see and hear in themedia, and we also know that the media does not let go of a majorevent. There comes a point when your child and even you have seen andheard it enough. Filter what your child is exposed to, at least when heis around you. Its ok to turn off even the news if you think it isinappropriate for your child. Although children should hear and talkabout current events, try to discuss them with him, and help him thinkabout and understand them. Sometimes, childrens magazines or TV showsdo a good job of this.

    Protect their idealism. Althoughit is important for your child to be aware of what is going on in theworld, certain tragic events promote feelings of helplessness amongchildren of all ages. Find ways to let your child know that the worldis not a terrible place. Tell them about the people who are helping,such as emergency workers and volunteers. Talk about what they can doto help, such as fundraising, finding pen pals, or even organizing aproject in your community to help keep it safe. Also discussstereotypes and racism, because many times these issues arise fromworld events and children learn tolerance and respect for diversityfrom adults.

    Thisinformation was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, andreviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Childrens TrustFund.