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Helping Children Understand Tragic Events

A primary reason for family togetherness time is to build a sense of confidence in children about the stability and safety of their family. When young children are exposed to stories about monstrosities happening in families, parents must take special care in helping their children know and trust that their family togetherness is something that they can count on forever.

Whether an overheard sound bite from the television or gossip from the rumor mill in the schoolyard, it is inevitable that children sometimes catch wind of events in the news before they are developmentally and emotionally ready to understand and grapple with them. Media this day in age leaves little room for escape from current events. The painful truth is that children’s confidence in family togetherness can be shaken in the blink of an eye when they hear or overhear a news story about a parent abandoning or killing their child. This can happen when the television is on in the background or playing in an adjacent room or when the radio is on as they ride in the car. While parents may hope that their child didn’t really hear or understand or did not take what they heard seriously, there are times when they are faced with questions that cannot, or should not, go unanswered. This month, we will address this difficult yet important aspect of parenting.

As a general rule, children are best helped when they are helped honestly, in measured ways that are appropriate for their age and emotional development. Unanswered questions and worries, as much as a parent may wish, do not go away simply because they are not talked about. In fact, when not talked about, they have the potential to become even more worrisome – or scary – in a child’s mind.

Helping Children Six and Under

Very young children benefit from the comfort of the idea that the world is a generally safe place and that their parents provide a sort of magical protection from the dangers that do exist. For this reason, a parent’s first job is to take proactive care to prevent their young children from seeing or hearing news stories. Since it is impossible to predict what will be reported at any given time, parents should avoid listening to or watching the news, even playing softly in the background, when young children are present. If a child does happen to hear something, parents can offer simple explanations. In the case of a story that involves killing children, a special explanation that the parent who committed the act had a sickness and that such a thing would never happen in the child’s family may be needed. If a child is so worried that he pushes the topic, parents can offer additional reassurance that if someone in the family did become sick in that way, the family would seek help and take them to a doctor.

Helping Children over the Age of Six

Older children should hear the same type of explanation from their parents, but should also be encouraged to express their own thoughts. Parents of older children should keep in mind that one discussion is usually not enough to work out their worries and concerns, but children are often reluctant to be the ones to initiate conversations about topics that are uncomfortable. Parents can remind their child of conversation from time to time and ask if they have anything more they want to know or share.

A Child’s Sense of Safety

Children derive their sense of safety from reading their parents. When horrible things happen, parents should convey in a genuine way that they find this very sad, but at the same time project a calm and confident air that their family is healthy and strong. By being supportive and honest with children in this way, parents can make themselves an important and valuable resource when their children need that stability and security most.

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