Kenya. The Navy Yard. It just never ends. Here are ten tips for talking with children about tragedy. Please feel free to add your own.
- Total news BLACKOUT! That includes the radio, newspapers, tv and internet. Children will see a picture of people running in terror and want to know what happened. You don’t want that to happen. But if it does…
- Answer only the questions they ask and in the most circumspect way possible.
- If you broke the first rule and they are ASKING to watch the news, perhaps because they see you turn it off when they come into the room, tell them that there are adult shows and kids shows. The news is an adult show. (And if they ask why adults can watch kids’ shows but kids can’t watch adults shows…you can either tell them that it is because adults have already been kids – or you can tell them that if you don’t watch the shows you won’t know who the characters are when they beg you to buy the licensed merchandise!)
- Older children may hear things at school. Again, see #2. In addition, ask them what THEY’VE HEARD. That way, when some of it is nonsense, as it is bound to be - like the end result of a game of telephone – you can tell them it is not true. Then, you can choose to tell them what part of what they heard is true. Or you can choose not to. Regardless…
- Tell your child(ren) that what happened was far away and in a place they never go to. Even if you live in DC and we’re talking about the Navy Yard, in children’s terms, all of what I’m suggesting is true.
- Tell them that they are safe and this type of violence has never happened in their neighborhood (I hope for your sake, that this is true!).
- Tell them that these things – the violence – almost never happen, which is why peope talk about it when they do.
- Remind them that the incident is over and, again, they are safe. When children see a report of something violent, even if it is the same or a similar clip of one incident, they think it is happening over and over again.
- After you’ve talked (and this is any time, not just on this topic), ask your child what they’ve just heard you say. That way, you’ll know if you need to repeat or clarify anything.
- Empower your entire family with information and a plan. If a child knows that if a stranger tries to take them they should scream bloody murder, stomp on their foot and run away, they’ll feel more empowered than a child who simply worries a stranger may try to kidnap them one day… We’ll have to talk about the limits of “stranger, danger” another time…
In the meantime, give the people in your life a hug and a kiss and tell them how much you love them.