School psychologists and other behavior experts recommend that parents be proactive in talking with their children, provide accurate information and limit news consumption as much as possible.
In the past, parents and teachers could limit kids’ access to tragic news and violent images by turning off the TV or hiding the newspaper. But with smartphones, the internet and a 24-hour news cycle, potentially traumatic news and images are much harder to avoid.
Whether it’s from their friends or a news anchor, kids will likely hear about the attacks in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. School psychologists and mental-health experts recommend that parents be proactive in talking with their children, provide accurate information and limit news consumption as much as they can.
Here are some specific recommendations:
Talk to children, even if they don’t bring up the subject. They may be hesitant to start the conversation, so look for clues — like hovering around you — that they want to talk, recommends the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Not talking about an event can make it seem even worse. Younger kids might need an activity, like drawing, to express how they’re feeling.
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Ask children what they know. They may have heard a rumor on the playground or come across a debunked story online that they think is true. It’s important to tell the truth, but be sure to provide age-appropriate facts. For younger kids, make it simple and brief, but don’t be too vague. Saying only “some people got hurt” without context might confuse them.
“Listen carefully; try to figure out what he or she knows or believes,” the National Child Traumatic Stress Network says in its recommendations. “As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions and underlying fears or concerns.”
Limit media exposure. Parents should limit or prevent access to online media for young children, said NASP spokeswoman Katherine Cowan. Younger children who see repetitive coverage might think the same event is happening again and again. For older kids, parents should encourage moderation. Remind them to consider the source of the news stories and resist stereotyping and hate-filled items.
Reassure them they’re safe. Make sure children know the difference between the possibility of something bad happening and the probability that it will affect them. Come up with a list of trusted adults and safeguards in schools, their home and in public areas. If an older child has safety concerns at school, suggest that they write a letter to school leaders.
“At the end of the conversation, reassure your children that you will do everything you know how to do to keep them safe and to watch out for them,” the American Psychological Association recommends. “Reassure them that you will be available to answer any questions or talk about this topic again in the future. Reassure them that they are loved.”