Sometimes tragic news stories—like the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and today's shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa—might scare many children and their parents.
Here are three suggestions to help your children through these challenging situations:
Reduce exposure to graphic images and words—turn the news off for a couple of days
Turn the TV and radio off when children are around. Child brains and vocabulary just can't handle this type of event. If you would like to know what happened in greater detail, you can go online to get the information, but please be aware that you might be disturbed by some of the images you see.
If it happens that your younger child hears about this story, be truthful but not scary. Do not lie. Try something like, "Something very tragic happened today and people are upset and scared because some people have died."
For teenagers, I would still turn the news off to avoid the burning of images in their mind, but gently introduce the news story as neutrally as you can. I know this will be tough, but try to keep them from getting caught up in speculation, judgment, or name-calling.
Be a calm, rational role model
Your children are continually watching how you handle things. If you grab the phone, sobbing, and exclaim, "What a monster!! How could someone do something like this?" (which might be what we are thinking), everyone around you will get worked up. Use all your tricks to calm yourself down, talking as little as possible about this event to others. The event and images are upsetting for most parents so it is okay that we feel sad, even cry, but try to not allow yourself to get into a frenzy.
Help your children be calm and feel safe
For those children who do end up finding out about this event, their parents need to be the voice of reason and security. Remind your children that they live in a safe country, and about all the things that are in place to help them be safe. Although these events get a lot of press time, they are actually quite rare, and the odds of getting hurt in a car crash on the way to school are significantly higher than the odds for this type of traumatic event.
Children often become clingier when they experience something stressful. Please give them as many hugs as they—and you—need to feel better. It is called "healing touch" for a reason.
* If your child has heard or seen more than he or she can process, and is having nightmares or has become overly anxious, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Most psychotherapy or counselling organizations have lists of people in your area.
For more info on helping your child understand and cope with violence and death, please check out these resources:
And finally, here is some wonderful and truly helpful advice from Mr. Rogers: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."