It seems that over the past few months, the media has been flooded with stories of violent tragedies. From the Newtown shootings in December to the Boston marathon bombing in April, news of violence has been difficult to avoid. As adults, many of us have sadly become accustomed to this type of occurrence and have developed our own methods for coping with such tragedies. But what about our children? How much should we tell them? And how can we help them cope?
Because of the widespread media coverage and increased access to information through social media, kids are seeing and hearing the news more loudly and clearly than ever. Many parents take for granted that their kids are going to know how to process this information. While it is true that children are often resilient, they may benefit from a special time to just process and discuss these tragedies with mom and dad.
You may want to consider initiating such a conversation with your kids after national or even local tragedies. Giving your child a chance to talk and ask questions about what happened may help prevent them from misinformation or misunderstandings that can be spread via friends or social media. Asking open-ended questions (“Tell me about…..? What concerns do you have about…..?”) can help provide older children with a platform to speak freely and take lead of the discussion. There is no right or wrong way to go about it – the important thing to do is LISTEN, provide honest information when necessary, and help provide the assurance to help your child feel safe. These kinds of tough discussions can help you BOTH cope and strengthen your bond, too.
If you’re unsure about initiating a discussion, or your child doesn’t want to talk (and you shouldn’t force them!) you can still monitor your child’s adjustment. The following warning signs could signal that your child may be having difficulty coping or adjusting:
Sudden changes in mood or behavior (i.e. anger, withdrawal)
Sudden increase or decrease in appetite
Changes in sleeping patterns
Isolated behavior (your child doesn’t want to really play with his or her friends anymore, increased time alone)
Anxiety regarding separation from mom and dad
If you notice any of the above signs of distress in your child, please consider consulting a mental health professional. Remember, your children are sensitive and aware little beings, and they need YOU to help show them that it’s okay to ask questions, have feelings, be scared or even cry. So, the next time you find yourself asking, “How?” or “Why?” after an unfortunate event, consider inviting your child in on the conversation.