School shootings, natural disasters, terminal diseases and other tragedies -- if only we could keep our children protected from the harsh realities of the world. The simple truth is that we cannot. We can hope that these lessons are saved for when they are old enough to understand. We can pray that we won’t ever be in the position to have to explain it. But in the end, we will all be faced with the challenge of talking to kids about scary news. Here’s some advice about how to have some of these difficult conversations.
Keep it Simple
To the extent that you can, keep discussions as straightforward and conceptually simple as you can. Adding to many qualifiers or nuances to the information may result in a loss of understanding, which will raise more questions. Many parents were faced with having to talk to very young children about the tragedy of September 11. Rather than discussing the political, social and religious reasons or implications for what occurred, it was best to simply state that some people wanted to harm others and they did a terrible thing. A child can much more readily understand a “black and white” issue than one with many shades of gray.
Let them ask Questions
Even if you don’t have the answers, let your child ask and questions they have about the news they’ve heard. It’s ok to be at a loss for explanation – in fact, that’s part of life, too. Encourage your child to talk and ask questions and create an environment where they feel safe doing so. In turn, ask them questions to understand how well they’re processing the information and how they may be feeling.
Children are very adept at picking up on non-verbal cues during conversations. As you talk about difficult issues, try to remain calm and open. Pick a time to talk when you can be logical, calm and open to whatever arises.
Look for opportunities for your child to be proactive in response to scary news. If they hear about a house fire where the family has small kids, suggest donating some of their clothes or toys to help. Talk about making a donation to support the recovery effort or volunteering as a meaningful way to make something good out of a bad situation.
Remind them of Good
Even in the face of adversity, remind your child that there are good people in the world who try to help whenever something bad happens. Look for those people who are helping. Encourage your child to look for those people or even to be one that tries to help.
Scary news is difficult for your child to understand and it may be difficult for you as well. Keep your lines of communication open and, if you need it, seek out additional professional resources to help you and your child work through it together. Despite the circumstances, there’s an opportunity to learn from what has happened and take those lessons forward to be better prepared in the future.