Whenever a tragedy (natural or human-made) makes the news cycle, I know I’ll be hearing about it’s emotional impact in my office. Often, parents are asking how to help their children manage anxieties and bigger questions related to their safety and the world at large. If your kids are expressing concern, here is how to talk to your child about tragic world events:
Find out the WHY
If your child is asking “why” something happened or wants clarification on what they heard on TV or from peers, first follow-up with an open ended question about why they are asking. Is their concern about their safety? Someone else’s safety? Are they worried about how they can help? Are they wondering if the information they have is accurate? Or maybe they are just wondering if the problem will affect them directly (“I heard the hurricanes will cause a shortage in gas. Will we still be able to drive to grandma’s for Christmas?”). This helps you to answer their primary concern in a developmentally appropriate way.
Explain the news cycle
We live in a 24 hour news environment. This means that we are subject to all of the hypothesizing and time-filling needs of media deliverers, not to mention all of the opinions available on social media. Additionally, this information may be overheard and spread at school on the playground. Facts and stories may have been exaggerated. Help your child understand how to determine valid sources of information and context.
Identify how you keep your family safe
Explain the emergency plans that you have in place. If you don’t have one, perhaps it’s a good time to establish a plan. Explore the safety precautions your city and state have to minimize the likelihood of experiencing a disaster. You can talk about what you would do if a fire started in your house, the importance of car maintenance and wearing seat-belts, following doctors’ advice when you’re sick, etc. Help your children understand that we prepare to make these types of events less devastating.
Look at what you can do to help
Consider researching organizations to donate to, or organize a school drive to help the victims of the disaster. Service provides a sense of efficacy and proactive problem-solving, which can help to alleviate anxiety by contributing to a “greater good.”
In my house, we talk openly about the good and the bad that exists in the world. Often, periods of intense struggle and atrocity are also opportunities for identifying selfless acts and heroism.