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Coping with Tragic News and Tips for Talking to Children

Posted June 27, 2022 by Chaplain Shannon Blower

Mother hugging her child

In recent months, international conflicts, COVID, and violence have impacted our lives. These disturbing events can have profound effects not only on the families and communities where they occur but also on parents and children many miles from the scene.

Tragedies like these often shake our sense of trust and security. They feel personal because these are everyday people doing everyday things. Our kids go to school, we shop at grocery stores, attend concerts and movies, and so on.

Parents may struggle with how or even if they should talk to their children about scary or tragic news. But even if your children don’t say anything, it’s important to ask them about their understanding and fears of events. Kids can have a distorted sense of danger from what they are seeing in the media and hearing from friends.

But before you can even think about navigating these difficult conversations with your kids, you must first check in with yourself to process your own emotions. That way, you can model calm when talking to your children. It’s not uncommon for individuals of all ages to experience secondary stress when exposed — even through the media — to mass shootings and other violence.

As a parent, you first need to attend to your self-care to improve both your mental and physical well-being. Changes in eating patterns, sleeping habits, mood changes or trouble concentrating are signs of distress. While it sounds counterintuitive to take care of yourself first, you cannot help your children if you are not well. As the saying goes, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you can assist others.

It’s important you’re getting enough sleep, eating a healthy, varied diet and exercising regularly. All of these things can help reduce stress, improve your mood and better prepare you to cope with difficult emotions.

In addition, lean on family and friends for emotional support to help you deal with and process stressful reactions. Talk about what you’re feeling and ask them to listen to your concerns. Your conversation has the ability to help them cope as well.

Lastly, understand the best amount of media exposure for your wellbeing. While hearing the news or reading about it on social platforms informs you, repeated exposure can increase stress levels. Instead, schedule breaks from thinking about the tragedy and do something to lift your spirits, such as meditating or taking a walk with a friend.

Kids take their cues from us. So as parents, we need to pay attention to how we’re dealing with grief and reacting to these tragedies because our children will follow suit.

Tips for talking to children about scary situations and current events

Summa Health offers 6 tips to help parents navigate these difficult conversations with their children, cope with the impacts of mass violence and build resilience together.

  1. Stick to your child’s normal routine. Kids thrive and gain security on predictable bedtimes and daily patterns.
  2. Limit media exposure for a few days. If your kids are older, set limits on social media. Too much information, or misinformation, can be harmful or overwhelming, and amplify the sense of danger.
  3. Don’t shy away from sensitive conversations. Ask kids what they know to get a sense of their understanding of the situation, so you can correct misinformation, fill in knowledge gaps and help them keep it in perspective. How you communicate, however, depends on the age of your child. Younger kids might have questions about their safety and need reassurances. Teens may want to talk about the events and voice their opinions.
  4. Focus on the positive. It’s okay to acknowledge the truth that people are suffering, but you don’t need to go into excessive detail. Instead, focus on the good, like first responders and good Samaritans.
  5. Ask open-ended questions to help your children process their emotions, such as “How do you feel about that?” Then, listen and validate their feelings.
  6. Take positive action. Distracting kids with other activities will give them something that they can feel in control of in their environment. Your family can do something tangible to counter the bad with kindness, such as make a donation, volunteer or write to an elected official.

It’s important to continue to check in with your children. Keep an open line of communication to create a safe space for kids to discuss their feelings and worries. Over time, your caring support can help to lessen the emotional impact.


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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.