My kids are 8, 6, and 5. You would assume they’re somewhat immune from hearing the bad news adults hear – news of bombings, terrorist attacks, shootings and more. But through classmates, media, parents or other adults, they usually have at least a little information.
Developmentally appropriate language
Of course, depending how young a child is, you may want to shield them completely, or shield them more than an older child. Regardless, it’s always important to consider a child’s developmental age, which may be different than chronological age. You need to ensure that you’re using developmentally appropriate language when discussing these events.
Remember, young kids can be very perceptive. Even with only minor information, they may have questions. In these cases, you should listen carefully to uncover exactly what the child understands, and how they are interpreting the information. They may be confused and misinformed. We recommend that you provide short bits of simple information, but not a lot of detail – a couple of sentences should be fine, without extensive elaboration that could make things scarier.
They may ask, “Mom, will this happen to me?” With that type of question, be sure to stop and carefully listen when they start to talk about their worries. Parents shouldn’t say it could never happen, but it’s best to simply give reassurance around safety, and to stress the positives that come out of tragic events. Highlight the caregivers, police, firemen and everyone who tries to keep us safe, and who will be there if something unlikely happens.
You don’t want to create fear, but you don’t want to sugarcoat it, either. And remember to have these discussions earlier in the day, as right before bed is not an appropriate time.
What about older children?
Well, it’s likely they have heard more about the event, and this could result in more-advanced questions. You should follow their lead on how much they know, and then provide developmentally-appropriate information as necessary. Older kids are also more likely to receive news through the web or video, and it’s a good idea to read or watch some of this media with them – that way, you’re processing the news and information together.
Regardless of age, parents should filter and monitor the information children are exposed to in the media. Even listening to the radio in the car, as I do, can expose both young and older kids to media messages that require a parental perspective.
Finally, it’s important that you validate any type of concerns, confusions, or scariness and talk about these things openly. Remember that it’s OK to say, “Parents sometimes feel the same way you do.”
We hope these tips help – and that you never need to use them.
Dr. Trenna Sutcliffe loves kids, families, pets, travel and hiking. Discover more about her work here.