Original illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
All parents want to ensure that their children feel safe. In an age where we can't help but be plugged in 24/7 (myself included), it's common to want to shield young ones from all tragic news we encounter. Although my 20-month-old son isn't old enough to understand the horrific mass shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas, there will inevitably (and sadly) be a day where he'll have questions about violent current events.
For parents who aren't sure how to approach the sensitive topic with their kids, the American Psychological Association stresses the importance of discussing sensitive topics with children. "The conversation may not seem easy, but taking a proactive stance, discussing difficult events in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure," the APA explains. Children eventually find out about frightening and saddening headlines, and avoiding a discussion might actually cause kids to overestimate and misunderstand the situation. As the Mayo Clinic notes, it's common for children to feel shocked, sad, and angry—all normal emotions for people of any age to experience.
I often wonder how best to prepare myself for the day when I'll need to explain the complexities of the world to my children—and I know I'm not the only parent who feels this way. When talking to your kids about tragedy, these are the most important ways to help them feel safe:
Guide the conversation. As the APA points out, practicing what you plan to say may make starting the discussion easier. When you feel you and your children are ready, find a quiet moment when they will have your undivided attention. Find out what your children know about the event, listen to what they have to say, and don't be afraid to share your feelings. The APA also recommends telling your children the truth about the event "at a level they can understand," without giving unnecessary graphic details.
Take a break from the media. PBS suggests keeping the TV off and unplugging from any other media sources to avoid constantly exposing children to news updates, which could actually amplify their fear and anxiety.
Maintain your regular routine. Although it's tempting to keep them home from school, maintaining your regular routine can help instill a sense of resilience and courage in the spite of tragic events. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, explains that talking with preschoolers about their day using concrete examples can be especially helpful. For instance, telling your child, "You're going to be with Mrs. Smith, and she's going to be in charge of you. Mommy's going to get back at lunch, and we'll go to the playground," says Kennedy-Moore.
Spend more family time together. Cultivate your children's sense of security by spending more time with them, whether it's reading an extra book at night or allowing them to sleep in your room for a short time, says the Mayo Clinic. The medical resource website also suggests doing activities together that benefit the victims and their families, writing encouraging thank-you notes to law enforcement and first responders or visiting a place of worship.
Up next: how influential mothers plan on raising the generation to embrace love, inclusivity, and tolerance.