Today we are confronted by tragedy seemingly on a weekly basis, be it terrorism or community violence. Given the multiple sources of media around us, children are perhaps more aware of current events than ever before. Parents, teachers, and other caregivers are faced with the challenge of how to talk to children about violence.
Fortunately, various resources are available for guidance. The following suggestions come from the American Psychological Association, Common Sense Media, and my own experience as a child psychologist and parent, including guidance from the principal at my child’s school:
- Be aware of your own emotional and behavioral reactions to tragic events in the world, and take care of yourself. Your children will look to you to determine how to handle difficult news.
- Find out what information your children already have. Answer their questions in simple and concise terms, focusing on the facts at a level they can understand based on their age and maturity level. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” in response to questions.
- Do more listening than talking during these conversations; however, you can share your own feelings with your children in order to help them understand and accept their own troubling or confusing emotions. Be sure to also share how you cope (e.g., do something fun for distraction, exercise, talk to a trusted friend) and provide reassurance.
- Turn off or filter the news, particularly at the top of the hour and half hour. Monitor exposure to online content as well. Be mindful of adult conversations in your children’s presence. Young children can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears. Repetitive images and news stories can make dangers seem graver, more widespread, and closer to home, particularly for children who are more sensitive or anxious.
- Reassure your children that you as their parents or caregivers, as well as their teachers at school and helpers in the community, will do everything you can to keep them safe. Remind them that you are available to answer any questions or to talk more in the future.
If you need additional guidance or are concerned about your own or your child’s emotional or behavioral reactions to recent tragedies and violence, you may want to consider talking to a licensed mental health professional. One available option is to contact Georgetown Psychology Associates at (301) 652-5550.