Recent natural disasters, mass shootings and international conflicts in the news are reminders that the sheer volume of media exposure of disturbing events and tragedies can have a profound effect on kids many miles from the scene.
Even if your kids don’t say anything, it’s good to ask them about their understanding of events and their fears, said child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Laura Markley of the Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Kids can have a distorted sense of danger because of what they see in the media. Find out what they know, fill in knowledge gaps and help them keep it in perspective, Dr. Markley said.
“You want to be accurate and reassuring without being over-informative and graphic,” she said.
How you communicate, of course, depends on the age of your child. Teens may want to talk about the events and voice their opinions. Younger kids might have questions about their safety and need reassurances.
“Acknowledge that images and headlines can be disturbing, but they don’t mean you’re in danger,” Dr. Markley said. “I encourage parents to point out that things are covered in the news because they are rare, not common, and that their child is safe.”
Dr. Markley said it’s okay to acknowledge the truth when children have become aware that people died or are suffering. However, instead of providing excessive detail, focus on pointing out that safety forces were there to protect others, and reassure children that schools, police and others work hard to keep your community and your family safe. Try to focus on helping others in need, and not on the tragedy itself. When children feel empowered to be helpful, they feel less anxious.
“It’s okay to say this is unlikely to happen to you, but that if something did happen where we live, there are people who will protect and help us,” Dr. Markley said.