When something tragic happens in our world, how do we handle it when it comes to our kids? Do we share all we know? Do we let them watch the news with us, read the headlines, and surf the ‘net for as much information as they can find? Do we let them listen in to our calls and conversations with friends and family, as we process the event ourselves?
Though every family—and every child—is different, in most cases, adhering to three basic tips will keep everyone stable through a difficult time.
These three tips for talking to your kids about scary news will hopefully keep your family’s best interests in mind.
1. Turn off the news. It’s easy, especially when something tragic occurs, to experience news-overload, and it’s imperative that children hear scary news in moderation. And they need to hear the news from someone they love.
So first and foremost, when the kids are nearby, refrain from watching news stations, listening to newscasts, or live-streaming news on your electronic devices. Be cautious with the newspaper when it is delivered; often the front page images and headlines are eye-catching and sometimes gruesome.
Magazines and other publications are also designed to catch adult readers’ attention, so be wary of those as they arrive in the days following the tragic event.
2. Make age-appropriate decisions and be honest. Your fifth grader can handle more information about scary news than can your kindergartener, so move forward accordingly.
Sit down with your children together, if they are close in age, or separately if they are years apart, and tell them in very basic terms what you know. Kids don’t need to know all of the details from a tragic event. For example:
(Some event) happened yesterday in the city of (city name). We don’t know everything yet, but we do know that (very basic details of the event). You need to know that you are safe here at home and at school, and that if you have any questions, all you need to do is ask me, and I’ll do my best to tell you what I know.
Children also need to know that it is not their job to inform their friends of this event—it’s their friends’ parents’ job. So if they have questions about the event, children need to ask you or their teacher and not their friends. Every family is different, and it is up to the parents to decide if their child is ready to handle this kind of news or not.
3. Listen to your kids. They may not have questions today but they suddenly may have some questions five days or two weeks from now.
They may change the way they play or interact with friends or siblings in reaction to the news of this event, so be aware, and be ready to clarify or connect anything they need.
Children need a whole lot of extra love and support when something like this occurs, so constant reminders that they are safe and that they are loved are a must. Play a few more games together. Leave a few more love notes on pillows or in lunch boxes, and give a few more hugs.
Tragic news is hard for everyone to handle, so it’s up to parents to make it as manageable as possible for our littlest ones.