How to talk to kids about tragedies

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Coping with tragic events like mass shootings or terrorism is hard to begin with… but parents are often faced with an even more difficult situation: How do I tell my kids?

“How do I tell my kids about violence; something I can’t even make sense of myself?”

Over the past few weeks, the horrific images of mass shootings, terrorist attacks and bombings dominated headlines.

Unfortunately, these images are unfiltered on social media.

It becomes hard to control how much of it a child sees.

“The first thing is to talk and listen,” Terry Kitchen, the Director of the Children’s Learning Center at Hagerstown Community College says, “Help children process what they’ve heard but don’t give them more information than they’re ready for.”

Crystal Rice, who’s an expert in child psychology says children under the age of 10 shouldn’t be exposed to these images unless it happens close to home.

Before that age, it’s important to limit kids’ exposure to media images because that may cause anxiety.

“This information does produce a lot of stress and anxiety,” Rice says. “They don’t need to know that people were shot unless it’s a family member.”

Studies show that kids with more frequent exposure to media have more difficulty with anxiety than kids with less exposure.

It’s important for young kids to understand that people make mistakes and choices.

“The best thing you can do to reassure them to is to let them know that people made choices to do these things,” Rice says, “Kids can understand that you’ve made a choice.”

It’s important to ensure kids that you are taking all the steps necessary to ensure their immediate safety.

For teens that may have heard about attacks or other violence through social media or the news, ask what they know before approaching the topic.

This way, you can correct any fact errors and re-shape the event in their minds.

Creating a positive atmosphere of open dialogue is very important.

Kids should know they can always come to you to discuss their feelings, fears, or concerns.

It’s even important for parents to express their fears and concerns, to ensure kids they are not alone.

“If we don’t show our kids how we deal with it, then they are never going to learn,” Rice says.

Acknowledging uncertainty can create a sense of comfort and connection between parents and children.

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