With so many negative things happening in the world, many parents wonder how to handle talking to their children about tragic events, whether it occurs on the national scale or within the family. Here are some general guidelines to consider:
A general guideline is to avoid introducing these topics to children under the age of eight. Any younger and a child will struggle to understand the event. Keep in mind your child’s developmental level too. Even if they may be older than eight years old, do they demonstrate the emotional maturity to handle news like this? If not, hold off on sharing this information if possible.
As they get older consider carefully how much information they need. It is usually best that you share information with them directly, as opposed to giving them something to read or watch. Images can be particularly upsetting for children and it is recommended in most cases that children not be exposed to images.
Sometimes our children wind up exposed to tragic events no matter how hard we try to protect them. They may have experienced a trauma first-hand or overheard something at school. If your child does bring up one of these topics, focus on validating any feelings your child may express and help them label their feelings. When kids are exposed to a tragic event, they can sometimes display unusual reactions due to discomfort (e.g., laughing, acting out). Remind them that there is no right or wrong way to respond to these types of things.
After validating how your child feels, emphasize to them that these events are very rare and not something they need to worry about on a daily basis. It can be helpful to tell you child that this is an “adult worry” and you are in charge of making sure this does not happen. In these moments, it can be tempting to go over safety procedures with your child (e.g., what do to when approached by a stranger). This is usually not the time for this information and you are better off presenting this information when not discussing an actual event that occurred.
Keep an eye on the news. Many parents do not think twice about having the news on while they are preparing dinner or getting their children ready for school. However, the news is not usually appropriate for children. It is good for children to know about world and local events, but find a way to give them this information on your own terms. The news often creates the impression that tragic events are common and we want to remind kids that these events are exceptionally rare.
If your child is struggling to cope with a traumatic event or you are unsure about how to help them, please consider calling us at 612-470-4099 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.