This is one article I never thought i would be writing or discussing with many of my families in the office. Now with media through cellphones, radio, TV, etc penetrating all aspects of life, it is almost impossible to keep news of the recent tragedies away from our children. Having the conversation with our young ones about the violence and tragedies happening in our country today is heartbreaking and one of the hardest things we do as parents. Trying to walk that fine line of giving them support without ruining their innocence. It is very important that they initially hear from loved ones and the adult they associate with support and protection first before friends from school or catching something on the TV.
It is important to take time to have this conversation with your children. Children even as young as 4 will be exposed and may hear about the events. The goal is to reiterate that they are safe, it is ok to express their emotions and come to you with any questions. See below with some specific tips to help you and your family.
1. Keep Explanation Age Appropriate
At this age you can keep the explanation brief and avoid details. Mentioning a bad or sick person did some bad things. The focus of the conversation should be on reminding them they are safe and you are there to protect them. Give specific examples such as the locks on the door, adults present at school, etc.
Early Middle School
You will need more time and space to answer questions. At this age it is important to help your child separate reality vs fantasy. Again, spending time detailing and reiterating how they are safe. You may need to give details such as protocols, what the government is doing or school is doing. After a few days with the initial conversation, check-in. At this age they have more access to media and can have difficulty separating fact from fear.
Late Middle School/ High school
At this age concrete thinking occurs. Most children will have a strong opinion. Ask them their thoughts on the tragedy and what they think should be done. You can use their response to guide the discussion. Emphasize to them their role in maintaining safety such as locking doors, notifying guardians with something strange.
2. Keep Your Schedule
Keeping your routine while trying to limit TV exposure is a way to reiterate and reassure your child they are safe. Many children will not verbalize their emotions and instead you may see their anxiety or fear by their eating or sleeping habits.
The best thing you can do is to be available for your child during these times of tragedy. Your kids will feel better being able to talk about their feelings with you and you can use this opportunity to reiterate your values. If you feel you need more help and support, talk to your physician or reach out to your community.
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