This post was originally written and posted on February 2, 2014 in response to the tragedy in Paris. Sadly, there’s a need for it again in the wake of the school shooting in Florida where seventeen people were killed.
Bad things happen in our world from a family member getting hurt in a car accident to people being shot while they’re at work or enjoying an evening out. Sometimes this senseless violence can even happen in a school. It’s a sad reality of the current times in which we live.
Just as adults struggle with making sense out of these events, so do children. Below are a few tips to help parents discuss these types of events with their children.
Limit the media (including social media) coverage of these events, especially if you have young children in the house.
Take your cues from your child. Sometimes adults over-explain a horrific event which can lead to confusion and more fear. Keep your conversation simple.
Have age appropriate conversations.
Children under 6 are not likely to be aware of events unless it directly affects them or their family. In this case, no conversation is necessary.
For children aged 6-11, let them ask questions and only give enough information that answers their questions. Follow their lead. Avoid going into all the details of the event. Children may ask questions about death and this is a good opportunity to discuss your family’s beliefs in an age-appropriate, understandable manner.
Middle school kids will have more questions. Even if you’ve kept media coverage out of your home, it’s likely kids this age will have heard about the events from other students. Often this information is incorrect or exaggerated. Start by asking, “What have you heard?” or “What do you know?”
High school kids have probably read about the events on social media and have formed opinions about what happened. It’s normal for kids this age to not bring it up with their parents and even act nonchalant since it didn’t directly happen to them. Parents can ask the questions mentioned above and see if their teen will engage in a conversation. Share your own feelings about the event.
Don’t dismiss fears. Fear is a normal reaction to these situations and kids want to know if something bad can happen to them. Explain that these events rarely happen and that you and other caring adults are doing everything you can to keep them safe.
Keep your routine normal. Continue your child’s school and after-school activities, and especially keep their bed time the same.
For some kids, it’s difficult to have a “sit down, eye-to-eye” conversation. Instead, engage in an activity together. You can play legos, work a puzzle, shoot hoops, or drive in the car.
Put fear and/or discomfort into action. Find an organization that’s helping the victims and participate by donating time or money. Participating in any type of service with non-related organizations is just as helpful. Point out that there are many good people who care about others in our world.
I’m reminded of the wise words from Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers).
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so may helpers—so many caring people in this world.”
Please let me know if I can help.