I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and the Clinical Director of Bridges to a New Day, a counseling agency located in Lockport, Illinois. I am also the parent of 2 children both born post 9/11. Though my children were born after that fateful day, there has been no shortage of violence and trauma in the world since then. My daughter was just 5 years old when violence was thrust upon our community with the murder of several people at a business just miles from our home. My initial instinct was to shield my children from this news. But, because it occurred in our community, it was not only on every news channel, we also received community alerts via phone calls and emails regarding this tragedy, all heard by my children. And just when I thought I was successfully shielding my children from absorbing this information, my daughter brought home more detailed information from her kindergarten classmates. It became very clear to me that I would not be able to prevent my children from learning about violence in the world. I needed a new plan. Here are some practical tips, derived from the National Association of School Psychologists, for parents on how to talk to children about violence in the world today.
- Make time to talk about violence and don’t be afraid to talk about tragic events with your children. Start by finding out what they already know about the event and answering any questions they have openly and honestly. This can be difficult for parents who may be caught off guard or upset. Being keenly aware of your own feelings about the event is helpful. Children are hypersensitive to their parent’s emotional state and can often pick up on whether your words match your behaviors. Don’t be afraid to tell your child that you need to think about a question before answering.
- Help reassure children that they are safe and validate that increased fear is often a normal reaction to violence.
- Keep explanations clear and brief based on your child’s maturity. Avoid overloading your child with lengthy explanations and details. Keep things simple and remember that listening to your child’s concerns often helps most.
- Review safety procedures, if necessary, to reassure your child. Discuss all of the measures put into place at home and school to keep your child safe. Designate safe places to meet in times of crisis or develop code words to use.
- Limit television viewing of these events and be mindful of the content of conversations occurring in front of children. This can contribute to anxiety and confusion in children, including teenagers.
- Maintaining a normal routine and doing things you enjoy will help children feel better and keep them from worrying about the event.
- Monitor your child’s emotional state by looking for any changes in behavior, appetite, or sleep patterns. If your child is having difficulty in any of these areas and talking and reassurance from you is not helping, you may need to seek professional assistance. School counselors and social workers are an invaluable resource for children. If they are unable to assist you, they can often direct you to community agencies that can.