Our team of Pediatric Mental Health Professionals are often asked by parents how to talk to their kids about traumatic events and violence. With the recent tragic events that have happened in our country, the team has pulled together a list of tips to help parents through difficult conversations.
- Talk honestly and openly with your child. Consider their age and emotional maturity. Speak to them in an age-appropriate manner. You will talk differently to a 6-year old than a teenager.
- Some kids just don’t need to hear about a violent event such as a mass shooting. Older kids are going to hear about it on the news and social media. Don’t add unnecessary fear to very young children, who won’t understand it. Kids under 8 may still have difficulty differentiating between reality and fantasy, and shouldn’t view violent media, as it can be too frightening.
- Limit younger kids’ access to news coverage, as it can be damaging to their developing brains that haven’t learned to cope with violent events. Children frequently exposed to images of violence can be prone to developing vicarious trauma, anxiety, fear, depression, or anger.
- Your kids may have learned about an event without your knowledge, so it can be helpful to ask if they have heard about anything bad happening, and what they know about it. Correct any misperceptions or incorrect information. It’s ok to not have all the answers.
- Validate their feelings. Do not dismiss their fear or anxiety. Their feelings are very real to them, and you should let them know that you understand their feelings. Don’t talk at length about your own sadness or fears, because kids look to you for reassurance.
- Most schools have lock-down drills and evacuation plans, so reinforce what they need to do to stay safe and to follow the directions from adults who are in charge at the school.
- Encourage kids to report. Let them know it is not tattling when they tell an adult about something they see or hear that is concerning or frightening. For example, a peer who is threatening to hurt themselves or others, or a classmate that talks about bringing a weapon to school. Telling an adult is the right thing to do. Kids might be afraid of reporting but let them know they can help by telling an adult.
- Children may experience more anxiety and dinginess after an event such as a mass shooting. This is normal. Assure them that you will help keep them safe, as will the adults in their school. Reach out to the school counselor if your child is struggling with a lot of fear and anxiety.
- Talk as a family about what you can do to heal and help others. Whether that is prayer, donating, talking about it, or raising awareness, you can include your children in these activities.
- Remind kids to use appropriate coping skills. Teach them healthy coping and practice with them. Remember the three rules of anger: Don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt others, don’t hurt property.
- Spend time with your children and do things as a family. Make the most of your time together.
- Remember that there is more good than bad in this world. Teach your child kindness.
If you feel like your child is struggling socially or emotionally, please call us. By working together, we can help determine how to best navigate the obstacles that you and your child may be facing. Pediatric Partners Neurobehavioral Health: 701-356-4384
Additional resources for parents who are working through traumatic events with their child can be found at The National Child Traumatic Stress Network