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How to talk to your children about tragedies

By: Eric Levene, MD, Chester Pediatrics (White Plains, New York)

It has been a scary week for our country.   First, days of hearing about bombs being sent to many of our leaders as well as people who broadcast the news.  Then on Saturday, we hear about the senseless shootings at a house of worship in Pittsburgh.

Our thoughts go out to the families that lost loved ones in such a senseless way.  We are humbled by our first responders, running into the gunfire to save the innocent. Our prayers go out to those who were injured and wish all a speedy recovery.

Our country was founded on the principle of political and religious freedom. It is simply unconscionable for people to be targeted during worship, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States in this day and age. This violence occurs at a time when there is an increase in religious harassment on college campuses and online. But how do we this explain to our kids, how do we reassure them that their house of worship they will be safe?  What’s next?

First thing is to reassure our children they are safe.  Listen to their fears, validate what they are feeling, and let them ask questions.  Keep your explanations age appropriate.  Early elementary school need simple concrete answers.  Take them to schools and houses of worships to show them they are safe.  Ask principals, ministers, rabbis priest and imams to talk with them about the safety of the buildings. Schools are already doing drills to prepare students. Ask your house of worship if they are prepared as well.  Suggest or run a program for students to make them comfortable.

Older elementary and middle school students need to ask more detailed questions.  They are just developing opinions and are able to understand more.  Ask them open-ended questions.  Remind them they are safe and encourage them to talk with their school and religious leaders.  Let them hear how the community is working to keep them safe.

Older middle school and high school students will have varying opinions and are developing political and religious views that might be different than their parents.  Encourage the students to talk, if not to you but to people they respect.   Listen and ask what can you do for them.   They might have different views than you, validate them and discuss with them how to be civil with those that hold different views.

Observe your kids.  Look for changes in behavior, appetite and sleeping patterns.  Limit your younger children’s television viewing and try to limit their online news.  Watch your conversations with your spouse and friends in person and the phone.  Maintain your normal routines.  The more normal life appears for your kids the better.  Do enjoyable things as a family.
Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. And hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. 

 
Helpful links

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Talking-To-Children-About-Tragedies-and-Other-News-Events.aspx

http://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/talking-to-children-about-violence-tips-for-parents-and-teachers