Tragic events in the news – What do we tell the children?

Dear Friends,

I woke up Monday morning to the devastating news out of Las Vegas. As a kindergarten teacher, I knew I needed to prepare myself for questions from my students. A parent asked me, “how can I explain this to my child?”

In my experience, it’s best for parents to be honest with their children, in an age-appropriate manner, of course. Television and radio are just a few ways that children might hear about troubling world events- they will also overhear people talking about it in public, from other students, and from other family members. When parents are proactive and purposeful in discussing current events and hard topics, this limits the spread of misinformation (which may be even more distressing than reality). Additionally, parents should emphasize that it is always a good idea to talk about how you’re feeling. When we provide opportunities for open dialogue, it helps children feel safe, mentally and physically.

In terms of events like what happened in Las Vegas, the goal is to make your children feel safe. Focus on a few important things: 1) the danger is gone, because the police took care of it, and 2) look for the helpers. If you’re ever in a scary situation, look for ‘helpers’ like police (or call 911), teachers, and trusted adults.

Books are a wonderful resource for parents to start a meaningful, age-appropriate conversation. It gives children an opportunity to process, ask questions, and share their emotions in a safe environment.

– “Flood” by Alvaro Villa is a picture book which depicts a family preparing to evacuate their home before a flood, and then returning to rebuild. This book gives an opportunity to talk about natural disasters; also, how listening to adults, following the plan, and sticking together helps us make it through a big challenge.

– “A Terrible Thing Happened” by Margaret Holmes and Sasha Mudlaff does not describe a particular ‘bad thing,’ but talks about how fear and anxiety may make our body feel sick.This can help children verbalize how they are feeling physically and emotionally.

– “Jenny is Scared: When Sad Things Happen in the World” by Carol Shuman is recommended by the American Psychological Association. It describes the confusion that children feel when they hear about bad things on the TV/radio but don’t understand what happened. It tackles a lot of normal childhood anxieties, as well as larger, more disruptive events like acts of mass violence or natural disaster.

Finally, for the adults… in case nobody told you, it’s okay to feel scared or hopeless. These are hard times, and being strong for others is a heavy burden to carry. Remind yourself to “look for the helpers,” like Mr. Rogers told us to do. Mental health clinicians at SANE recommend the “Three C’s:” control what you can (making dinner, being kind to a stranger, what you put on TV), connect (with loved ones, professionals, your child’s teacher), and comfort (meditate, go for a run, take a bubble bath).

If you are overwhelmed or need further resources, please call us here at Family and Community Services, or reach out to your doctor or counselor. We are here for you.

With best wishes,

Mary Cole

Board Member – Family & Community Services of Somerset County

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