Children look to you to know how to live their life. From how to load the dishwasher to how to treat other people, they need your guidance to learn how to handle what life throws at them. They particularly look to you to know how to cope when bad things happen on the news.
You may be asking, how do you reassure your children when you are also upset by the news. And how honest should you be about your own feelings? And how much exposure is appropriate?
Here’s what Fred Rogers, host of the children’s television program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, has to say on the subject:
The truth is you are probably upset and unsure, too, which only compounds the problem. However, like they say on airlines, it’s important that you place your mask on your face before you assist your children. This advice is also sound when it comes to coping with bad news.
To read more about how to cope with your feelings after a Traumatic Event, please download this pdf from the CDC.
It’s important to discuss tragic events with your kids. It is also important to be calm, cool, and collected when you do. If possible, wait until you are able to discuss it rationally or feel as though you are coping well with your reaction. However, there could be times when you have to “put on a brave face” for your kids while privately, you work on your coping mechanisms.
First and foremost, assure them that you are there to keep them safe as are the people in the government, the police, the firefighters, and other grown-ups.
Here are some tips for helping children cope with bad things in the news.
Tip #1: Use an age-appropriate explanation of what happened and ask them if they have any questions.
You are the best possible filter for your children. You know them best and know what they can and cannot handle at their age. However, be as factual as possible and as honest as you can. It’s important not to pretend nothing is wrong when it is.
Tip #2: Validate their feelings, even if you don’t understand them.
When a child hears some bad news, he or she might talk about something that appears to be an unrelated fear. Avoid the temptation to dismiss their feelings as irrelevant. It’s important to support his or her worries to help them process their feelings about the bad news.
Tip #3: Recognize that you don’t have all the answers.
If they have a question you can’t answer, then say so. You may need to get more information and let your child that you will get back to him to discuss the topic further. Though sometimes this isn’t possible, and admitting you don’t know will help your children trust you more.
Tip #4: If appropriate, watch coverage of the event with your children.
If you look at the coverage together, you can answer any questions they might have. However, a little can go a long way, so be sure to turn it off to avoid the 24/7 news cycle. Also, if possible, pre-screen the coverage before showing your child so they aren’t confronted by surprise with more than they can handle. Most news organizations have video clips associated with their social media accounts where you can preview the video to make a judgment call before showing your child.
Tip #5: Try play acting to deal with their concerns.
Children use play to work on ideas that challenge them. Try playing with them in a game related to the event. However, instead of focusing on the violence or scary parts of the event, instead pretend to help victims in the hospital or to pretend to make and deliver treats for the first responders that are working hard to deal with the problem. If your child does play out a violent part of the event, do not reprimand them for misbehaving, use this play as an opportunity to discuss what they saw and how they think and feel about it.
Tip #6: Keep an open line of communication.
Most importantly, talk and listen to your children. Be honest about your feelings. When you tell them you feel angry, scared or sad, they know that their feelings are natural, too.
Tip #7: Get help when you need it.
If you need assistance helping your children cope, numerous resources exist that can aid you. Kidshealth.org has many resources and suggestions that can help. The school counselor could also be a great resource. Achieve Wellness Group also treats families and children who need help with coping skills or persistent feelings of depression or anxiety.
Rogers had an excellent story he shared that can be helpful.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
To learn more about how Achieve Wellness Group can help you and your family process your persistent feelings of anxiety or grief, please contact us.
“Tragic Events.” www.fredrogers.org. Web. 17 July 2016. <https://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/tragic-events.php >.
“Coping with Stress After a Traumatic Event.” www.cdc.gov. Web. 15 July 2016. < https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/coping-with-stress-2013-508.pdf>.
“Traumatic Stress.” www.helpguide.org. Web. 15 July 2016. < https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/traumatic-stress.htm>.