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Talking to Kids about Tragedy – 5 Things to Remember

Posted: July 29, 2016 by contact@clearerskiescounseling.org

The most recent mass shooting in Orlando had me and my friends discussing the question that every parent seems to be asking, “How am I going to tell my kids?” Some of us may be wondering if we should even tell our kids or what to look out for if our kids are particularly sensitive or easily worried. Here are a few guidelines to talking about tragedy with your kids and some links to other articles that we at Clearer Skies think are especially helpful.

Talking to Kids about Tragedy – 5 Things to Remember

1. Talk to your kids

Like any other important topic in life, if we as parents don’t talk to our kids, other people will. With the advent of social media, it is almost certain that you cannot keep information about tragedy in the world away from even very young children. Even without social media, mass tragedies tend to come up in otherwise benign situations – the cashier may ask what you think of the availability of guns, their schools may suggest an extra lock down drill and so on. Bringing up tragic events like the Orlando shooting can be intimidating, start by asking some direct questions, such as “Have you heard anything about what happened in Orlando?” or “Were you watching the news last night?”

2. Answer questions directly and age appropriately.

Gently correct misperceptions they may have about the incident. Present clear information without exaggeration or conjecture. For the youngest of kids, a clear statement along the lines of "There was a person who hurt people, but there were also lots of people who bravely tried to help and are still helping" can suffice. When older children and teenagers ask more complex questions about motivation or risk, it's okay to say that you don't know the answers, but will help them feel safe however you can.

3. Limit news exposure

Keep in mind that repeated exposure to traumatic information can be overwhelming, even for adults. Limit news exposure for your entire family – get the facts and then focus on processing and healing. Young children, especially, may perceive multiple news reports of the same tragedy as multiple tragedies.

4. Helping and healing

Tragedies such as this recent shooting can make us feel powerless and vulnerable. Participating in a vigil, sending support to the victims or helping another cause nearby can restore a sense of control in our lives. It could be useful to ask your kids to help decide how to help others in this time of crisis to increase their feeling of being helpful.

5. Watch for signs of heightened distress

Our bodies are physical reflections of our emotions, even when we cannot name those feelings. Children often express their emotions through their bodies – they complain of constant aches and pains when they are feeling depressed, they move around a lot or can’t sleep when they are anxious. Hearing distressing news can have a lasting impact on children, especially the closer that they are to the event. If you’re worried about your kids’ reactions, seek extra support. These are times in which it doesn’t hurt to offer extra love or support or kindness – to anyone, really – but especially to your children.
And really, we’ll add a 5b.

5b. Take care of yourself

Not only is it important for you to be able to care for your children by being healthy and present as much as possible, it is important for you to role model taking good care of yourself. It is absolutely okay for you to show emotions – even difficult ones – to your kiddos, but also let them see the healthy ways you cope with these emotions and what you do to heal. If you're tearing up while talking about the Orlando (or any other) tragedy, make a point to relate what you do when you're sad to cope with big emotions, such as "This is really hard and sad, but I'm going to go for a walk and take some time to listen to music later, which I know will help me feel better."

When tragedy happens, we know that we will be holding our kiddos closer and for a bit longer each hug. We hope that you are able to do the same. Take care out there.

For more information: http://grievingstudents.scholastic.com/talking-with-children/

Tags: relationship and family, news