In today’s crazy world, parents have to walk a fine line when it comes to talking to their kids about potential dangers, loss, or disturbing news in the media. Rather than try and sweep things under the proverbial rug, it’s important to talk to kids about sensitive issues like school shootings, terrorist attacks, infectious diseases, and other situations. The tricky part is having these conversations without instilling fear or causing unnecessary anxiety. Here are some tips on how to talk to kids about tough subjects like the death of a loved one, school violence, or other tough topics:
Listen closely to your child. If your child is talking about school shootings or violent attacks that happened in other places, he is obviously hearing about these events from somewhere. First, identify how he is getting the news and then ask what exactly he heard. Use that as a starting point to talk about the incident so that you can relieve your child’s fears. For example, if your child asks about the terrorist bombing in France but has no idea where France is, you can turn this into a teachable moment by showing him on a map where France is located.
Keep Your Tone Positive
Always keep in mind that children are very perceptive. If you show fear or anger when discussing serious situations, they will pick up on those feelings. They may even feel bad or ashamed for causing you to be upset. Make sure your tone is positive when you are talking to them. Tell them you are glad they asked and that you are happy to talk to them about anything. It’s important for children to feel secure when asking grownups about potential emergencies or alarming events.
Keep Information Age Appropriate
When answering questions about serious topics you might be tempted to tell your child more than you should in the spirit of telling her everything. Honestly, that’s not helpful. Children can’t process a huge glut of adult information without becoming confused and/or alarmed. Make sure that your discussion is on your child’s level and is expressed in a manner she can easily understand. You can always have a more in-depth conversation about that topic as she grows older and more emotionally mature.
Give Your Child Coping Skills
You can’t shield your children from disaster or loss, but you don’t have to terrify them either. Let them know that while bad things do sometimes happen, there are things that everyone can do to prepare for them. Make sure that your children know what to do in an emergency such as dialing 9-1-1. Work together to create a family disaster plan. The more prepared your children feel about handling emergencies, the less afraid they will be.
If your child is struggling to cope with the loss of a family member or beloved pet, let him know that it’s okay to feel sad. Encourage him to deal with his feelings in a healthy way like keeping a journal, drawing pictures, or talking to you about his feelings.
Seek Professional Help When Needed
It’s always painful to see your child suffer from any type of worry or concern, but it can be even more so if you suspect that their anxiety is cause for a deeper concern. If your child’s level of distress impacts their quality of life and prevents them from getting adequate sleep, miss out on social activities, have changes in behavior, or worry on a frequent basis, he or she could be suffering from an anxiety disorder. If they continue to be anxious for several weeks, consult with a mental health professional for an evaluation. A therapist can provide insight and skills to help both children and parents manage overwhelming anxiety.