How to Talk to Kids about Scary Events


With today’s constant stream of information, it isn’t always easy to shield our children from the scary events and situations that happen around the world.  Although we can’t control what happens, we can control how we–and our children–respond to such tragedies.

We found these tips from Loyola University Medical Center to be very helpful when it comes to talking to your children about scary world events:

Ask Them What They’ve Heard
…And correct any errors or misconceptions. “I would inform them that the information they may have received from school or classmates may not be entirely correct or may have missed important details,” says Loyola pediatrician Dr. Hannah Chow.

Use News Coverage as a Teaching Moment
If you can, watch the news first and use your best judgments at to letting your children watch it as well.  “Have a discussion while watching the news and help them digest the information afterward,” suggests Dr. Chow. “The older they are, the more they will be able to comprehend and process.”

Assure Them They Are Safe
“Let them know you are here for them and that you will do your best to protect them,” says Dr. Chow. “Also, remind them of how protected they have been in the past.” For children old enough to understand, create a safety plan. “Talk to your kids about safety, how to find safe places and how to locate the nearest exit wherever they are,” Dr. Chow said. “Have a plan for how they can communicate with you in case a tragedy occurs.”

Remind Them Not All People Are Bad
Talk about character and how to identify adults who can be trusted. “Point out that the majority of people can be trusted,” Dr. Chow says. “Teachers, firefighters, police officers, medical professionals — they are there to help you in the event you need them.” She adds, “I would let them know that only a small number of people want to hurt people and that people are usually kind to one another.”

And if your young child seems to still be feeling anxious and unable to to express his or her feelings?  Carolyn Klinkert, LCPC at Edgewood Clinical Services shares these tips:

Identify the Emotion– It’s important to understand what your child is feeling. If they can’t express it in words, try using pictures of emojis to get the conversation going.

Nurture the Emotion– Provide comfort and reassurance that the emotion is okay. During anxious times, take extra care to soothe your child and provide the extra attention they may need.

Give your Child a Sense of Control– Creativity and service can give children a sense of control for an event that was out of control. Examples include painting, writing a letter, donating to a charity, volunteer work, or any other activity that creates an outlet for your child to acknowledge their feelings.

It may be hard to know if your child’s reaction to unusual events is typical. If you have any concerns at all, consult your pediatrician, mental health professional or counselor.

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