The recent rash of shootings in San Bernardino, Colorado Springs and Paris is horrifying for everyone. Tragically, these kinds of stories have become common.
These tragedies are difficult to grasp as adults. For children, they’re even more confusing and terrifying. As parents, it is difficult to know how to approach topics like gun violence and terrorism with your kids. How can you possibly explain these senseless acts while also reassuring your child that they are safe?
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, one French father did an amazing job of helping his young son understand what had happened while also providing a sense of comfort
A reporter asks the boy if he understands what happened. The child responds that he does. The attacks happened because the terrorists were really mean and “bad guys are not very nice.”
The child expresses fear because “there’s bad guys everywhere” and they have guns.
The father uses the memorials surrounding the city as reassurance.
“Of course they do (have guns), but we have flowers,” he says. “ … Look, everyone is putting up flowers. It’s to fight against guns. … It’s to remember the people who are gone yesterday. The flowers and the candles are here to protect us.”
The father doesn’t lie. He concedes that, yes, evil is everywhere. But he counters by pointing out all of the good things going on despite that darkness.
The exchange should provide a model for parents to use as they struggle to explain to their children why this violence has happened while also easing their fears and anxieties.
Here are some more tips for talking to your kids about tragedies and violence:
First, you should try to find out what your child already knows.
In the digital age, depending on how old your child is, it is likely they’ve already heard about what happened. Too much exposure to media coverage can lead to a warped vision of the events. Research also shows that some young children believe events are reoccurring each time they see a replay of the news footage on television, so you will want to limit their exposure to news coverage.
Your child’s age will determine how much detail you go into with your explanation. Limit the information to basic facts for younger children. If your child is in middle school or a teenager, you can discuss the situation in greater complexity.
Regardless of their age, explain to them honestly what happened and encourage them to ask questions and express their feelings. Let them know that it’s OK to feel scared.
While you don’t want to minimize a child’s concern, you do need to reassure them that they are safe.
While terrorist attacks and shootings can happen anywhere, they are still extraordinarily rare, especially in regards to school shootings. The reality is that schools and children are safer than ever before.
Also let your child know how much you love them and make sure they understand they can always come to you to talk about their feelings or emotions.
Discuss safety procedures
Something else that can reassure your child is to talk about the procedures that are in place to keep them safe.
Schools take numerous precautions to keep out intruders, from having visitors sign in at the principal’s office to keeping certain doors locked throughout the day. Explain to your child that these rules are there for their own safety.
You can also go over safety plans in the event of an emergency with your child. Make sure they understand where to go and who to take instructions from in the event of a crisis.
Look out for signs of anxiety
You’ll want to keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety to ensure y our child isn’t more troubled by the events than he or she is letting on.
This can present itself in a number of ways, such as trouble sleeping or physical symptoms such as headaches or fatigue.
If these signs persist, you might need to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist.
Fortunately, the National Association for the Education of Young Children provides a host of resources for helping children cope with tragedy and violence.