How do I talk with my girl about …..[insert latest natural disaster, tragedy, or act of violence]?
These days, we can’t turn around without another huge environmental disaster like a hurricane or earthquake happening or a violent crime like a mass shooting smacking us in the face. It’s hard enough to comprehend and process these events as adults. For girls, it’s even more difficult.
There’s no one way to address tragedies with children, and how parents approach it depends both on the child’s age and temperament. The American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend avoiding the topic with children until they reach a certain age – around 8, but again, it depends on the child. Before the age of 8, unless it directly affects your family, young girls do not need to hear about such events because children struggle to process it.
But it is recommended that parents should talk to their younger children about such events if they are at risk of hearing it from others.
Another expert in the field is Amy Morin. Amy, a licensed clinical social worker, college psychology instructor, and psychotherapist came up with a list of tips in her Psychology Today post, Talking with kids about the Las Vegas Shooting. It’s a list that every parent of young girls should refer to and applies to whether your girl is facing a natural disaster, tragedy or act of violence.
1. Understand that your response will shape your child’s core beliefs.
The conversations you have with your kids—as well as the conversations you avoid—will impact their core beliefs about themselves, other people, and the world in general.
For example, will your child decide the world is a terrifying place filled with bad people who want to hurt her? Or will she grow to believe that there are a few bad people out there, but for the most part, there are good people who are working hard to keep her safe?
2. Don't allow young children to watch the news.
Watching news footage can be very disturbing to young children so it’s important to keep it off when they’re around. If a story comes on while your child is in the room calmly say, “I don’t think this is something we should watch right now,” and turn the station. If you panic, you may increase your child’s anxiety.
3. Keep your message simple.
Say something like, "A bad person decided to hurt other people." For young children, this may be all the information they need. Older children are likely to ask more questions. It’s OK to say you don’t know all the answers.
4. Focus on the steps that are being taken to keep people safe.
Talk about how police officers, government officials, and other first responders are helping. Spend more time talking about the good work people are doing, rather than the horrific event. This can help reduce your child's anxiety about safety.
5. Point out the good things everyday citizens are doing.
Talk about how nice people are helping families who had a loved one who got hurt. Look for specific ways people are pitching in to help one another. This can show your child that the majority of people want to treat others with kindness and not hurt them.
6. Empower your kids to become helpers.
Discuss how they can take positive action in the wake of a tragic event. Writing a thank you note to a police officer or donating allowance money can go a long way toward helping kids see that they can always take steps to make the world a little better. Kids who feel like they have a little bit of control are less likely to feel helpless in the wake of a tragic event.
7. Use caution when sharing your suspicions of political or religious motives.
Even if you suspect religious or political motives, don't share those thoughts with young children. Invite teenagers to express ideas about why someone may harm others. Be willing to share your thoughts but be aware of the lasting impression you might give. You don't want to add to stereotypes your teen may already have.
8. Choose any words about mental illness carefully.
If you say the shooter likely had a mental illness, be careful to point out that the vast majority of people with mental illnesses don't commit violent crimes. You don't want to teach your kids that people with a mental health problem are bad or should be feared.
9. Hold follow-up conversations.
Your child may need time to process the information. He may come to you several days later with follow-up questions, or you might notice he acts out more shooting scenes in his play. Turn those things into teachable moments and opportunities to talk more about the tragedy.
10. Send a healthy message to your child.
No matter how many conversations you hold or how much you decide to share, keep the message the same, bad things happen but there are good people out there helping and we’re strong enough to get through it.
Sending your child that message fosters resilience and teaches your kids they’re able to cope with whatever bad things come their way in life.
So, if you want to help your daughter as she faces some of life’s biggest tragedies, take a piece of advice from Amy and most importantly keep her strong.
Of course, I’d love to know what you thought about today’s post. Leave a comment below!