Talking Through Terror and Tragedy with Your Kids
Recent events in our world have put a spotlight on the dangerous and fearful times in which we live. As adults, we can become wrapped up in trying to process these unimaginable events, sometimes forgetting our children are also facing uncertainty and confusion.
News stations show airplanes crashing or going missing, bombing of large events and public transportation, and the most recent act of senseless violence, our nations deadliest mass shooting at a night club in Orlando.
As parents we take on the role of teacher, protector, provider and counsel, but that can be difficult when we ourselves are feeling anxiety and sadness about these same issues. Here are a few guideposts to help navigate conversations with your children about terrorism and tragedy.
The Right Language
Part of the confusion your children (especially younger children) are likely dealing with surrounds simply not understanding the vocabulary of these events. Trying to piece together meaning from reactions, they may often not know what something means but only know it’s something scary or “bad”. Talk with them about these events using words they use on a regular basis. For example “mass shooting” might be above their pay grade, but “people being hurt” is a term they know well.
Listen and answer
Fear can be more easily overcome for children when they see their parents unafraid to listen and explain these events. Rather than blowing off their concern with an easy, “you don’t need to worry about this,” take the time to really hear what is concerning them and why. Ask questions about how they feel and what they think. Find out how they are interpreting these events. There will be time for reassurance at the end of the conversation.
Counsel without condemnation
This guidepost is likely to be of more importance with older children who are beginning to form opinions. Let them be angry, sad, scared, or any other emotion that strikes them. Don’t try to talk them out of feeling this way or explain why they should feel something else. This conversation is about helping them process situation, not you. I encourage you to do the same with a trusted friend or family member, but to be there for your children you have to let them go through the process. You may not agree with their opinions or you may feel anxious to see you children hurting. Offering empathy and compassion through those moments teaches more than you might think.
Read more, watch TV less
We are what we surround ourselves with. When we face a crisis as a nation our news stations keep us updated with every detail available to them, 24/7. Hearing these details on such a regular basis causes us to catastrophize an already catastrophic event, and this goes double for your children. Minimize the amount of time they spend watching television coverage by downloading a news app and reading about the updates rather then keeping CNN or Fox News going in the background.
At the end of your discussion, leave room for hope. After every major act of violence our world has seen, an outpouring of support has followed. People have united together to get through these difficult times and there is beauty in that display. The resiliency of the human spirt is unparalleled. Acts of compassion and shared pain nurtures our confidence that when bad things happen, we do not have to face them alone. Together we can find comfort in one another as a family and as a community. Don’t promise everything will be okay and nothing bad will ever happen, but that you will be there facing it together if it does.
Acts of senseless violence are impossible to understand, much less try to explain. Remember that it is alright to not have the answers and admit that to your children. They will appreciate the honesty and compassion you offer them. The more you have these complicated and meaningful discussions, the easier it will be for them to open up about how they really feel on this and other difficult experiences.