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Talking with your children about tragedies

No matter the age of the child, parents want to protect their children from the world and the evils in it. Often we are reminded that there is bad around us and we don’t see all of the good that surrounds our families.

I pause for a minute and tell you why I am writing this post. Most of the time I want to keep my blog upbeat, happy and positive. I feel that this post will help families keep that sense when tragedy strikes as well. However, without acknowledging how to get past the tough times, we will never truly know how to experience and appreciate the very best of our lives either.

My background

I grew up in Meriden, Connecticut. I had a very happy childhood. Until I was at a track meet in high school, I didn’t realize my city had a bad reputation. I was asked if I was in a gang. If you have ever met me in person, you probably would laugh at that being asked of me. However, we had gang fights in our school hallways and in the front yard of school. Our graduation had snipers on the roof. We had police at our school often looking for guns. I didn’t realize this was not normal, and I’m guessing many of my classmates never even realized this was happening.

I went to college in Pennyslvania at a Quaker school where one of the studies was non violence. We had many people in our class who came to the school from Columbine, because they were looking for answers. It was heart wrenching to be in a class with them and to hear their stories, but motivating to hear how they planned to make life better for themselves after such a tragedy.

September 11th was a shocker for me. I was in Pennyslvania. My family was still in Connecticut. A girl down my hall heard about the planes and tried to call home but couldn’t get through using landlines. I gave her my cell phone (which is like a brick compared to today’s standards). She found out that one of the planes crashed into a neighbors farmland.

Watch out for the news

Since September 11th, news consistently shows image upon image of tragedies to keep us glued and looking for more information. Wanting more speculation. Needing more answers. However, this is completely unhealthy for adult brains. Time Magazine wrote an interesting article in regards to constantly consuming the news and its detrimental affects on health.

Remember, the news is out to sell advertising first, and inform you second.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also wrote a piece regarding children and the news, which I feel is vitally important to this blog. The AACAP notes that parents and educators have warned about sex and violence among TV shows for years, but not on the news. However, the news often goes into graphic detail that is not appropriate for children or adolescents.

Parents might have the news or radio on in the background and not realize that the children are hearing or paying attention, however, the children may absorb more than you realize. In our home, we don’t watch the news on Television while the children are around or listen to it. We get most of our news on our phones and read it when we don’t have eyes over our phones.

Advice for parents


The AACAP gives this advice:

Minimize the affects of news:

  • Monitor the time your child watches the news
  • Make time to talk with your child about the news
  • Watch the news with your child.
  • Ask your child if they have any questions
  • Talk with your child and reassure them that you are there to keep them save
  • Look for signs that the news may have triggered fears or anxieties such as trouble sleeping, persistent fears, bedwetting, crying, or talking about being afraid.

Be wary of children’s news programs and magazines

Remember that children’s news programs and magazines have the first goal of making profits. I’m not trying to dissuade you from getting a children’s subscription for news, but understand the source and make sure you read it as well. Not all children’s news information is developmentally appropriate.

Be Open to listening, talking and explaining.

One of the most important things I would like to emphasize is to listen to your children. They might hear something at school, from friends, or from other adults in passing that might make them nervous. Kids don’t always come out and say “I’m having a problem”. They might have actions (like problems sleeping, aggression, crying etc) that are a cry for help. I encourage you to listen and watch for changes in your child. Be open to listening to them and their fears.

The Australian Psychological Society had a great piece about coping with violence.

This part is particularly worthy of noting: The world is mostly good, and the violent are a minuscule minority.


Foster hope

  • Remember the world is largely a safe place, people are usually good, and life is worth living. 
  • Look for the positive changes that come from distressing or tragic events.  
  • Find something to do to build up your community or make others feel good. Giving to others in a time of tragedy can be helpful. Make cookies for a neighbor. Visit elderly at a retirement home. Help out at the humane society or a hospital. There are many opportunities to make the world a better place.

How we deal with tough topics and tragedies with our kids

  1. We don’t watch the news with our kids. I think this is the first and most important thing in our family. My son once asked why he couldn’t watch the news with me. My answer was “I don’t know what they will say next, and I don’t know if it will be appropriate for you.”
  2. If there are questions, we answer them. We sometimes have to do some research. My husband and I might ask for a few minutes to talk about it before we talk to our children to make sure it is appropriate for our kids, and at a level they can understand.
  3. We make these conversations private. There have been many conversations that were not appropriate for a restaurant or play place. Our kids have heard some awful words that we need to discuss (and then tell them why they shouldn’t repeat)! We also want to be able to have an open discussion without interruptions.
  4. Guiding our children is our goal. We don’t want to make them afraid of everything, however learning about their surroundings and how to be safe is important. Knowing that people are mostly good and that we should help others is so important, and that tragedies should not make us have hard hearts.

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