Talking to Kids about Tragedy

by | Dec 1, 2023 | Anton Media, Blog, In The Media

By Kathy Rivera, Executive Director/CEO, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center

Children are always listening, even to things they may not have the ability to fully comprehend. Whether it be from social media, school, or adults in their lives, it’s inevitable that kids are hearing about the many tragedies that are occurring throughout the world today. Though a parent’s first instinct may be to shield their child from the anxiety and fear that comes with the unknown, avoiding the topic could leave their child feeling lost and helpless.

Discussing challenging world events with your children is a delicate but necessary task. By fostering trust, maintaining composure, promoting open communication, addressing social media influence, and helping children cope with anxiety, you can guide them through the complexities of the world while providing them with a safe and supportive environment. These conversations should be ongoing and adapted to your child’s age and maturity level as they grow and develop.

A foundation of trust

Children need to know that they can rely on their parents through hard times. It’s important to have a strong foundation of trust before going into any difficult conversation with your child. So, what’s the best way to do this? Dr. Sue Cohen, Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, highlights the importance of actively listening to your children. By paying attention to what they say, encouraging family conversations, and demonstrating mutual respect, you can build a strong foundation of trust. This is vital in helping your children navigate complex issues and challenges in the world.

Remain calm 

Before explaining the news to children, it’s essential for parents to come to terms with it themselves. Kids are adept at picking up on adult emotions, often feeling affected by the stress, anger, and anxiety of their caregivers, so remaining composed while approaching the topic is crucial for effective communication. “Children feed into their parents’ tone, so if they give the information in a calm manner, children will know that they’re safe,” says Dr. Cohen.

Open communication

Parents should strive to understand what their children already know to gauge their exposure to external information. Get a sense of their awareness and correct any misinformation they may have encountered. Allow them to ask questions without judgment and answer them in an age-appropriate manner. For younger kids, assure them that the scary events are happening far away and that they are safe. For older children, stress the importance of finding reliable information on current events and knowing when to look away from the news.

Addressing social media 

With the rise of technology and social media, kids today have unfiltered access to events happening anywhere in the world. What once could only be viewed on the nightly news or in the morning paper is now at our children’s fingertips 24/7. It is important to explain to tweens and teenagers the realities of social media. Anyone can have a platform on sites like TikTok and Instagram, which means that not everything they see is backed up by facts. Media literacy is taught in some schools, but it’s important to continue those lessons at home. Discuss the importance of finding primary sources, understanding biases, and recognizing historical context.

Dealing with anxiety

Exposure to tragic events can significantly increase anxiety levels in children, impacting their daily routine, sleep schedules, and eating habits. Dr. Cohen emphasizes the importance of maintaining regular routines, as children thrive on consistency. Encourage children to express their feelings through creative outlets like artwork and music, or by seeking support from a youth group or volunteer service. Staying mentally and physically active can significantly impact how children cope with distressing news.

Remember that support is there for your families as we all navigate this difficult time. Contact the North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center at 516-626-1971 if you or a loved one are struggling.

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