Part of fostering a secure attachment and healthy relationships with children is the delicate balance between sheltering them from unnecessary stress but at the same time showing that they can talk with us about their worries. So how can you walk this fine line when it comes to sharing tragic events in the news with your children? Each family is different and each caregiver knows what is best for their child, but here are some considerations that can be helpful to keep in mind.
1) If you think your children are old enough to understand what shootings/terroristic attacks mean, talk to them about it. Chances are that they will hear this news at school or from friends, and it is better that your children have a conversation with you, where you can explain what really happened and offer the emotional support they need.
2) Explain things in a simple way, answer your child’s questions, but avoid getting into scary/gruesome details. You want your children to know what happened, but you don’t want to traumatize them. Supervise/limit their exposure to media, so that your children will not come in contact with contents that may cause excessive distress.
3) Consider your children’s developmental level. How long of a conversation they can have, which language skills they possess. Some kids only need short/simple explanations, other children will require more in length account of the facts. For instance, for a younger child (in the case of Austin bombings), you could just say: There is a person who is doing mean things, and leaving dangerous packets around. For an older child, you could explain a bit more on how many times it occurred, in which areas, where these packages where found. If an older child asks about what happened to the people who found the packages, you could explain that they were badly injured and two people sadly died.
4) Consider your child’ s emotional maturity. Just because a child has the cognitive and language skills to understand information about the tragedy, this does not mean that they are equipped to handle the emotional impact of this account. You are the expert on your child, keep in mind how they could react and give less/more general information in case your child gets easily anxious/overwhelmed.
5) Always communicate to your children a sense of safety. Explain to them how to be safe (i.e. not to open packages, call an adult etc.). Also, reassure your children that you are in charge of keeping them safe and you are doing all you can to make sure they are ok.
6) Plan what you are going to say to your children in advance. Children may ask a lot of questions, and you want to make sure you have an idea of what to say. If you have a partner who also raises your children, discuss with your partner what do you want to say and which values you want to communicate. Tragedies like this provoke deep questions in children, and you may have to explain why people do mean things, why there is evil in the world and what happen after death. So it is important to identify a common ground with your partner on these themes.
7) Share your feelings….but not too much….Sharing your sadness about what is happening may help your children feel connected to you and reassure them that they are not the only one experiencing distress. However, make sure that you can still confort them and not seem too distressed. Caregivers also struggle with strong feelings when they hear about these tragedies, but it is important to show to your children that you can handle these emotions. Otherwise, if your children see you too overwhelmed, they may think that talking about these things distress you, and next time they are worried about something they may prefer nor to share these worries with you.