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How To Talk To Kids About Tragedies In The Media

Young children, teens and even adults may be disturbed by images and stories of people getting hurt in the media or on TV. Children can become anxious and fearful about the world around them. It is important to keep an eye on your TV guide at the start of each week and be aware of what is scheduled during your children’s viewing time.

Try to watch television with your kids (especially during the News), listen for their questions and answer them honestly. Tragedies affect everyone, both children and adults. Children need to talk about their fears, frustration and disbelief. It is important that we are watchful for these emotions and encourage open discussions.

Children may be worry:

  • that the event could happen to themselves or a loved one;
  • that they could be separated from someone they love or be left alone;
  • about their safety or that of their loved ones.

Depending on their age and level of maturity, children will perceive things differently to adults. Remember with younger children (up to nine years old) to be uncomplicated in your explanations without going in to gory details, especially if the tragedy is extremely unpleasant. Be supportive and reassuring during your discussion. Older children will be able to handle more information.

Discussion Techniques:

  • Be truthful – Children need to understand what is happening around them to feel secure. Provide them with facts about what happened and acknowledge it was a terrible and frightening event. Help them to see that we share their feelings.
  • Encourage any questions – Ensure your child feels as though they can approach you to ask questions as much as they need. Sometimes a child will process a tragic event much later and come back to you again for more discussion. Remind them that questions are welcome.
  • Feelings are normal – Some children may take a while to get over tragic events and that is perfectly normal. Allow them to cry if they need to and show their emotions. Share your feelings about what happened with them. Help your kids to verbalize their feelings with you. Secure them with a warm cuddle and remind them that they are safe. Keep things in perspective and remind them that not all people are harmful towards others.

Unfortunately over the past few years in particular, we have been exposed to numerous mass killings that have been disturbing and heartbreaking for all of us. Images in the media and discussions around the world can be quite alarming for our kids. It is imperative that we recognize these events and explain what has happened.

Sometimes our kids hear stories from others that may not be correct, so it is up to us to ensure they have the right perception.
When talking about tragedy to kids, your choice of words really depends on the age of the children. In any case though you should:

  • Ensure they feel safe – explain to them that it is a real misfortune what has happened and that we all feel for those people who were there or are experiencing pain.
  • Stay close by and show affection as they desire – give them a hug and reassure them that their world is safe. Keep them among familiar things until they’re feeling more secure, for example family and friends.
  • Allow the children to talk about it and how it has made them feel. Honestly answer their questions and try to put their minds at ease. By not talking about it may make them think it is taboo.
  • Be watchful for behavioral changes – kids who are behaving differently, such as not sleeping at night, feel frightened, don’t want mum to go to work, they want to start sleeping in with you may need some more reassurance, time and talking. If it continues it might be time to seek professional help.
  • For teens – talk with them, listen and ask questions. Stabilise the subject by asking “What are your friends saying about it? How are you feeling?” Make sure they’re receiving the true facts. Tell them you’re there for them.