By Ruth Golomb, Ruth Golomb, M.ed., LCPC
Las Vegas shootings. Car Rampages. Nuclear threats from North Korea. These are all troubling events that have occurred over the past few years. How do we talk to our children about these events? Should we? Should we protect them by not mentioning them? What is a good parent to do?
Children hear lots of information from school and from their friends. If you don’t talk to your child about important happenings, someone else will. It’s important and healthy to hear other view points, but children are really interested in what their parents think. They want to know how you view things. Is this good or bad? Are you scared? Should I be? These very difficult experiences give you an opportunity to talk to your child about how he/she feels. This may open the door for more conversations about safety, friends, good judgment, friends in trouble, and much more. Open communication is very important and helps children work out their feelings while being supported by their parents. But how do you have these conversations?
Parents are in a unique and important position to be able to educate and explain world and local events while also instilling values, trust and nurturing. Children should hear important information from you. Children really want to know what their parents think (even when they pretend that they don’t!) When discussing these occurrences, remember to use appropriate language for the age of your child. Keep the information simple and basic. Do not exaggerate, or use provocative language. Your child will be concerned about his/her own safety, so take some time to stress the fact that he/she is safe.
If there is a young child in the house between the ages of 3 and 7 years old, keep the information simple. Discuss just the basic information with few details. For example explaining the Las Vegas incident may sound something this……A man broke an important rule and brought a rifle to a concert and hurt some people. Everyone is sad. The Las Vegas police are going to make sure that they keep people super safe and are going to help people who go other concerts stay safe too. Lots of people are helping to make sure that we are all safe. They do a great job!
For an older child of 8-11 years of age, you might read part of a newspaper article, or watch a portion of the news with your child and discuss it. Find out what your child is hearing at school about the current event and what he/she thinks about it. Encourage your child to ask you questions. You might take this opportunity to discuss a few more details about the event with your child. Ask your child questions, such as, is he/she scared? Is there anything positive that come out of this? Take time to talk about safety at home and at school. Reassure your child that he/she is safe and that you are confident in his/her safety.
When children are pre-adolescent and adolescent listening will be a very important part of any conversation. Adolescents need to know that they will be listened to, even if they have a different opinion than yours. Let your child express him/herself. Ask about how they formulated their opinions. Give information about your opinions and how you developed them. Fill in missing information. Be as honest as possible. Try not wax on and on about the incident using provocative language. Your teen could truly begin to worry. Adolescents are still developing and have fears like anyone child could, even if they don’t show it. Make sure to take some time to reassure your teen about his/her safety.
Children of almost any age are like sponges. They often listen when you think they are not paying attention. For this reason, the national and local news can be very scary. The news is reported in a very sensational way these days. Kids worry about their own safety and wonder if bad things will happen to them or the family. The news almost exclusively, reports about bad, scary, or unusual events. “Normal” events are less interesting and therefore go unreported. This gives quite a skewed vision of the world or local region. Adults can fill in information left unsaid due to our life and experiences. This can help balance information that is reported in a skewed manner. Children lack this perspective. Therefore, watching TV news or programs with violence, graphic language, or sexual innuendo can be very confusing and difficult for children. Inappropriate TV programs should not be watched when children are within earshot of the TV. They WILL be listening, even if you are sure they are not!
When talking to your children about troubling current events, remember these five important points.
1. Use appropriate language for your child’s age.
2. Use simple language.
3. Do not exaggerate.
4. Stress your child’s own safety.
5. Do not watch the news or programs that are too grown-up for your child when your child is within earshot.