How to explain mass shootings and other horrific world events to children
You don’t have to watch the news to see that 2015 and 2016 are really scary years. Our news feeds and television screens are constantly flooded with reports of terrorism, hate crimes, natural disasters and other violent tragedies.
The attacks on Paris and Brussells, earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador, the spread of the Zika virus and the recent mass shooting in Orlando are just a few examples of these horrific events.
While these devastating events bring to light many important questions, the most important question of all is often forgotten. What effect is this having on our kids and how are they processing it all?
In our device-obsessed society, long gone is the era when Mom and Dad could protect the children simply by discussing things behind closed doors. Now, parents have an even greater responsibility to help their families understand and cope with the world’s ugly side.
Here are the 11 most important things to remember when talking to your kids about scary world events.
Nothing you tell your child will be as important as simply listening to them. Let them express their fears, concerns and thoughts about what they are experiencing. This is their way of making sense of things.
The more you listen, the better you’ll be at helping them calm down and move forward.
2. Control your reaction
Whether they realize it or not, kids watch and then mirror their parents in everything. When you react negatively to a situation, you send the message to your child that something is wrong and that they should react in similarly.
This is especially true in times of emergency or disaster. Kids aren’t familiar with how to emotionally respond to these kinds of experiences. They will look to those they trust for how they should act.
Keep your cool. Think how your reaction will affect your children.
3. Reassure them they are safe
Your kids need to hear from you that they are safe in times of distress. Constantly reassure them of this. Don’t rely on their teachers, friends or others to give them this feeling of safety. It doesn’t mean as much as it does coming from a parent. Relieve their anxiety and provide them with emotional stability.
4. Don’t minimize or brush off the situation
Avoid the urge to downplay a serious situation when talking to your kids, especially with teenagers. Even though you may have good intentions for doing so, this can actually do more harm and cause them to lose trust in you.
Once trust is lost, children will turn to other sources to validate their feelings and learn what’s really going on. You have to be real with them if you want them to come to you first.
If your child feels like something is a big deal, then it’s better to treat it like one instead of blowing it off.
5. Tell the truth
Similarly, always maintain trust by telling the truth when talking about tragic events. Don’t expose your kids to every grotesque detail of what happened, but don’t lie to them either.
If they ask if people died, give them an honest answer. Again, doing the opposite really doesn’t help them in any way. Telling them the truth allows them to better grasp the reality of the situation and understand what’s happening.
6. Be age-appropriate
Consider the age of your children when applying these suggestions. What works for your 7-year-old won’t necessarily be effective when talking to your 15-year-old.
Keep this in mind as you monitor each child and their different ways of handling a situation.
7. Help them use reputable, less-sensational sources
You won’t know the answer to every question your children ask about an incident. Instead of saying, “I don’t know,” take time to direct them to reliable sources.
Avoid news sources that are overly sensational or speculative. These will only cause your child greater anxiety and fear. Instead, choose sources you trust and have looked at yourself.
8. Develop an emergency safety plan and practice it as a family
Having an emergency safety plan will give your kids a sense of security. Any newsworthy emergency or world disaster is a good reason to create a family safety plan if your family doesn’t already have one.
Your family’s plan doesn’t have to be complex to work well. It can be as simple as identifying these three things:
- Where your family can go to in times of danger
- Numbers your kids can call during emergencies
- Supplies you can set aside as a family for emergencies or when you need to quickly leave the home
Practice your plan once you have it in place. Re-evaluate and update your family’s plan as needed.
9. Have a positive outlook
Always end on a positive outlook when talking with kids about scary world events. For example, explain how tragedies bring people together, helping to prevent, prepare for and predict similar problems in the future.
10. Help them help the victims
Often, tragic news is troubling to kids because the events are beyond the children’s control. In fact, this feeling of helplessness affects everyone, not just children.
Help your kids find ways to help the victims of tragedies. Here are some ideas.
- Encourage them to post positive messages of hope on social media about the disaster.
- Help them volunteer with relief organizations to create hygiene kits or put together emergency supplies.
- Help them donate some of their old clothes or other items.
- If you’re religious, consider encouraging them to pray for those suffering.
11. Teach them to love
Above all, use these ugly heart-wrenching experiences to teach your children to love. Don’t foster prejudice. Explain to them that just because one group of people chooses to do something wrong, doesn’t mean all people of that race, sex, nationality, etc. will too.
Focus on showing your kids all the good the world has to offer, but don’t shy away from discussing the hard things as well. They need you as their constant in an ever-changing world.
Alex enjoys writing, sports, and spending time with his amazing family.