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Tips from ECFE, for parents and caregivers on talking to kids about scary or tragic events

Tips for parents and caregivers on talking to kids about scary or tragic events

One of the biggest challenges for parents is explaining to children about bad things that happen. “We cannot prevent bad things from happening or stop our children from hearing about tragic events, but how we model our reaction is key to helping children learn how to deal with these types of difficult situations throughout their entire life,” says Vicki Czerwinski, Lead Home Visitor with Anoka-Hennepin Schools Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE).

So how do you talk to your children about violence, death, and other issues that are often difficult for even adults to handle? Czerwinski shares tips for explaining – if necessary – frightening events to young children while still making them feel safe.

It’s normal for children to be concerned. Just as adults become alarmed or even fearful, children also can feel these emotions. It is important to understand what the child has heard or knows before going into details.

Consider your own reaction. Your children will look to the way you handle difficult topics in the news to determine their own approach. If you stay calm, they will too.

Take a break from the news. While you may be interested in for the latest developments, your children may not be able to handle hearing or watching the information. The American Psychological Association recommends limiting the amount of time spent watching news reports, as constant exposure may actually heighten a child’s anxiety and fears. Czerwinski points out that it is more than just television. “In our 24/7 news culture, access to news includes the use of computers, tablets/iPads, and cell phones.”

Answer questions without unnecessary details. Even if you limit news exposure in your home, chances are your children may hear details. Ask your child what they have heard, don’t assume they know the facts. Listen to them. Acknowledge how they are feeling. Keep details to a minimum. It’s okay to say "I don’t know." We don’t always have the answers.

Do not minimize their concerns or fears. Talk to your children about the things that are being done on a daily basis to keep them safe – such as holding their hand in a parking lot or buckling them in their car seat, for example. Children oftentimes want to be told they are safe and that we do the things we need to do to protect them. Remind them that you are there for them and to come to you if they have fears.

It's important to note as Czerwinski reminds us, "There is more good than bad in the world, focus on the positive and the joy in each day.”