Your kids need to know the truth, but how you talk about it matters. Here's help.
It goes without saying that the most recent massacre in Orlando has the world shaken. Parents have their own set of worries around the safety of their children. And children, who have any level of exposure to the news, have a need to try to understand why this would happen and why would anyone do such a thing.
As much as we all wish we could shelter our kids from the realities of our world today we can’t. They typically hear about these types of atrocities from TV, other kids, overhearing their parents or seeing the look of concern on their parent’s faces while watching the news or reading a news feed on their phone. The points below are a helpful guide to talking to your kids about these types of tragedies.
1. Don’t make assumptions.
Find out what they know before you start your discussion. Ask them what they have heard, to reduce the risk that you may over-share.
2. Let them lead the discussion.
listen first to what they have to say or want to ask and then respond
3. Consider the ages of your kids.
Younger kids (6 and younger): They still think in terms of good and bad, so validate that a “bad guy” did something so terrible because he was angry. Then reinforce different things you can do when you are angry that are healthy and constructive. When kids are younger you want to let them know you are all safe because essentially that is what they want to know
Between ages 6- 10: Just ask them how their day was or if they learned anything interesting — this is a way to see if in fact they heard anything, and see if they'd like to discuss it.
Older than 10: You may want to assume they have overheard something — so you can suggest that they have as a conversation starter such as, “Did you and your friends talk today about what happened in Orlando…?”
4. Repeat the conversation.
Talk about it more than once and revisit the topic as they may get more information, and may feel worried about it as they process it. Parents are often hesitant to do so for concern that they are causing unnecessary fear but that is generally not the case.
Kids feel safer when they are reassured and heard.
5. Depersonalize the situation.
If your child appears to be personalizing the situation, such as using terms like “us” or “Americans” or “gay people” you can say that this angry bad guy doesn’t know “us” and didn’t know those people. You can add that they are angry and don’t know how to deal with their feelings. Depersonalizing it makes it less scary
6. Reassure them.
Tell them that you look so sad, or it is on the news so much because it is a rare tragedy so people are talking about it because it not a common occurrence.
7. Offer perspective.
Be sure to overtly say that there are more good people than bad people in the world and that there is more love than hate.
8. Make safety plans.
Talk about safety plans that are in place to keep them safe. Talk about school measures, people who protect us like police and the armed forces.
For younger kids you can focus on what you do as a parent to keep them safe like seat belts, helmets, and locking doors. For older kids you can also focus on safety and in addition what they can do to help in what feels like a powerless situation.
Examples include donating money to a related cause, raising money and volunteering. Teach them that the bottom line is that we all can add love and good will to the world and that it adds up and makes a difference. Share with them that no act of kindness is too small to make an impact on someone’s life.
9. Find the teachable moments in your conversations.
Ask them how they handle anger, bullies, hate statements, or sad feelings. It makes the conversation more productive and is teaches them new skills and ways to have conversations at same time.