Should I talk to my young children about tragic events in the news?
If it is possible to avoid sharing tragic events in the news with your child, that is preferable. Information about weather catastrophes that kill and leave families homeless is very disturbing, no matter how it is framed and unless your family is personally touched by it, it is better to protect your child from this information at this time. Mass shootings are obviously in the same category.
While it is important for children to learn about death and loss in an open and honest way, controlling when and how it is introduced, whenever possible, is best. Introducing the concept through a discussion of nature and the seasons is a gentler introduction.
That said, we all know that sometimes that is not possible. Children will catch bits of the news from the car radio, or passing by a television or computer. Or they will overhear adult conversations or the description of events by an older sibling or from other children at school or in the park.
In those cases, it is important for parents to offer a simple but honest narrative. Sometimes, people, do bad things or bad things happen like a hurricane or flood, but it is very rare. The most important thing that you can say is that you are always going to be there to take care of them and keep them safe. And that when bad things do happen, there are lots of helpers who are there to make things better. Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers fame always described his mother’s advice to look for and see the helpers when bad things happen.
When having discussions like this with children, please remember to send the message that you are open to talking about events and that your child should not be afraid to ask questions.
I always advise parents to try to mirror the emotions that they want their child to display. This can be especially tough in these turbulent times, but this must be the goal for every parent and caregiver. It’s okay to say that an event has made you sad, or even to shed tears over it in front of your child. What isn’t okay is to share feelings of hopelessness or panic. If you are unable to control your emotions in front of your child, then you need to seek support for yourself through family members or professional help. Children need to know that you can handle whatever comes your way and that you truly will be there to protect them.
These are trying times for all of us, but we must be vigilant in our responsibility to protect our children physically and emotionally.