Too often children are experiencing tragedy whether in person or watching it happen on television and parents are left with answering the question of ‘Why’. The recent tragedy in Paris has brought up many emotions for children and their families around safety/security and parents have the important job of teaching and processing with their children. Parents and other caregivers typically do not want to have these conversations because of fear that they will cause anxiety and distress in their children, but shying away from these conversations could be the catalyst for the strong emotions children feel.
Below is an age by age guide that will help navigate these often difficult conversations become a little easier.
Age by Age Guide on how to Talk to Children about the Paris Terrorist Attacks:
- Find out what they know. Children often know more than what we expect them to know and will learn information from other children or what they hear on television. Ask open ended questions to initiate their knowledge on the event.
- Clear up any misconceptions. Make sure they know only what happened and not some creative story they heard someone else talk about or what an imaginative other child told them on the playground.
- Make them feel safe. Whatever you say, end with the message that they don’t need to worry—even if, as an adult, you know that’s not necessarily true. You want them to feel that their little world is still secure. Remind them that there are a lot of people to protect them and that lots of people are working to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.
- Find out what they know and correct any misconceptions. School-age children have undoubtedly heard about the tragedy from their friends, in the classroom and on TV. But it’s still important to find out exactly what they know before you start talking.
- Keep it concrete. Now that they’re older, you can share more information and a bit of context, but they’re still too young to understand the big picture. Stick with the facts.
- Ask them what they think. They’re old enough to start sharing their feelings about what happened. Give them coping skills such as:
- Deep Breathing Exercises
- Journaling/Coloring pictures about the event
- Mediation/Mindfulness Exercises
- Start a conversation. Kids are developing their own thoughts and opinions about what happened. At this age children often can verbalize their emotions and can tell you how they feel. Normalize and validate your child’s emotions and use them as a start to a conversation.
- Limit exposure to graphic images and videos. Monitor what your child is looking at on television and the internet. With modern technology, very graphic videos appear on social media so it is especially key to limit your child’s social media intake during times of tragedy.
- Model positive behavior. Show your child healthy ways to cope with emotions and model appropriate behaviors. Be in check with your own emotions and be mindful of your actions and how your child may be observing you.