Talking to Your Children About Tragic News Stories
Most of us here in the Detroit area woke up and turned on the Monday morning news show October 2nd with no idea of what happened around 10pm local time in Las Vegas. For some we chose to and were able to shield our children from the news and the videos taken during the mass shooting, Others were not or our children are old enough that we felt we didn’t need to keep the news from them. Personally, I chose to tell my children because I wanted them to hear it from me and not from their classmate.
At the time many of us woke up on Monday morning the news was reporting 50 people killed and 400 injured. At the time of this writing the numbers have climbed to 59 killed and over 520 injured. It is the largest mass shooting in American history.
Even to many adults this is profoundly and deeply upsetting. The horror is compounded by the countless videos taken during the attack. Which complicates our ability as adults to control our children’s’ exposure to the news story. I spoke with clinical psychologist Dr. Samantha Rodman from the popular blog Dr. Psych Mom about how and when to talk to our kids about the Las Vegas shooting and similar news events.
When To Tell
Dr. Rodman states that news like this can be overwhelming until about 4th or 5th grade but that even then most kids should not watch more than a few short minutes of the news while the story is being covered.
“Parents need to consider the age of the child and the sensitivity level of the child. Usually about second or third grade (kids) can handle hearing short descriptions of events that are violent or upsetting, but they should be shielded from videos and pictures for longer, especially if they are highly sensitive.”
She goes onto to explain that some signs parents can look for to identify if their children are struggling with the news are if children have nightmares and if they continue to ask questions over and over about the events. If a parent thinks their children are having problems dealing with the events, she recommends reaching out and getting help. Pediatricians and schools are a good place to start.
“Parents need to be able to engage in self-care and recognize their own signs of fear and trauma, so that they don’t pass these onto their children. If a parent is perseverating on an event, and experiencing intrusive thoughts about it, this is not the event to discuss in depth with their child. first, the parent needs to process it themselves with a friend, partner, or therapist.”
Other parents have wondered how to talk to their kids about how to survive a mass shooting. Dr. Rodman tells us that their is no need to with young children. “This is a low likelihood event, probabilistically, and acting as though it is something common to prep for will likely frighten most kids for no reason, especially as the majority of schools have drills for what to do in case of an emergency.”
We all ask why when these tragedies happen. Rarely is there a clear cut answer and right now there seems to be no reasonable answer as to “why”. “Talking about the “why” varies with the age of the child. Overall, it is best not to talk about “bad” people, but rather people who have serious mental illnesses, e.g. “Something was wrong with their brains” and also to reinforce the point that when people act in violent ways, it is usually because they themselves have suffered in their lives. it is never too soon to cultivate empathy in children and an understanding that people who engage in violence are generally very disturbed and troubled people, e.g., if you are discussing a hate crime, then this can lead into a discussion about the importance of tolerance.”
From ABCnews, “Dr. Lee Beers, a pediatrician at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., said a tragedy does not have to be a trauma for children if it is “buffered by good, strong and caring relationships, by the adults around the child.”