After learning of this week’s horrific terror attack in Las Vegas, many of us are watching and reading the news still trying to intellectually and emotionally comprehend. But what do you do when you realize your five year old walked in and watched the entire news report right behind you? What do you say when your 13 year old asks why a man would shoot dozens of innocent people? How do you respond and help your children through tragedies like this?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best place to start is by finding out what your child already knows. Even young children may have heard a news report and have questions. Remain calm, caring, straightforward and direct. Be sure to ask if they have any questions. When explaining the tragedy, consider your child’s age. Younger children need the conversation to focus on basic information while guiding it around their feelings. “A man in Las Vegas hurt a lot of people. That is pretty far away from here, but it still makes me feel sad. How do you feel?”
Always reassure them that it is okay to feel however they are feeling and that you are there for support. Fear is natural, so children need to hear that attacks like these are rare and that they are loved and safe. It may help children to know that there are good people working hard every day to prevent attacks like these.
Older children may have more detailed questions, want to hear how you feel and talk through what they should do in an emergency. “Yes that is true, he had a gun and killed almost 60 people. It makes me feel very heartsick for all of those involved. While it is scary, I’m reassured to know so many people work hard every day to keep us safe from attacks like these. How do you feel?”
Following tragic events, be aware of when you watch the news or where you lay your newspaper headlines. It’s best to share only basic information with children and never any graphic details or images. Exposing your children to more than they can cope with can happen quickly and accidentally. If you do feel your older child is ready to watch news coverage, be sure you record it and preview it before you watch it together. This allows you to stop, rewind or pause for discussion when necessary.
Las Vegas’ reputation for fun and excitement may cause children to be more aware of this particular attack. Hearing news about a place they may have seen in movies may perk their interest more than other cities and states. Again, be prepared to answer your child’s questions in a calm, caring and age appropriate manner.
Some signs your child may not be coping well include sleep problems, physical complaints, changes in behavior and emotional problems. If you are concerned, contact your pediatrician or mental health professional.
Lastly, what children need most is your time. They need to know you are available to listen and validate their feelings or concerns. They need to feel loved and safe.