How to Help Kids Understand Scary Events
The key to helping kids understand scary events is first to recognize that is often impossible to understand. Even as adults, we struggle to wrap our minds around the reasons for natural disasters, mass shootings, or other devastating events. As parents, we have the challenging role of trying to help our children process these types of events.
Take Care of Yourself First
Your children will feed off your emotional energy. If they sense your anxiety, they will grow anxious. Therefore, you must take care of yourself first. I am not suggesting you do not respond to tragedies; instead, you find time privately to grieve and process before you attempt to explain things to your children. If mommy and daddy can calmly and reassuringly discuss the event, the kids will be much less scared.
Discuss Only What is Necessary
How much you tell your children about the event is dependent on their ages and their maturity; it will vary from one child to the next. However, the general idea is to discuss only what is necessary. Give them the information they need to understand the basics of what has happened. Do not provide them with all the specifics coming from the news (or allow them to see images) that may cause them to grow more fearful.
Let Them Express Their Feelings
Parents should also let their children express their feelings and fears openly. Try to have an open dialogue where your children feel safe talking about the event with you and asking questions. If your children have fears, do not dismiss them. Instead, nurture them and offer reassurance.
Talk About the Good
Find ways to point out the good when talking about scary events. For instance, Fred Rogers famously told his television audience, “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.’”
One of the best things a parent can do to help their children cope with a scary event is to offer stability. While it may be difficult, you should try your hardest to keep your routine. Routines and consistency help children feel safe.
Turn Off the TV
Parents can model healthy behaviors by turning off the television. Rather than allowing yourself to become consumed by all the images and commentary of the tragedy, you are showing your children it is unhealthy for you. Explain that you need to know what is happening in the world, but you do not need it to be on 24/7.
Unfortunately, there is no real way to avoid tragic events. As parents, it is our job to protect our children. This protection means shielding them from harm and assuaging their fears. Some families find it is helpful to devise a “Family Safety Plan” for crisis situations, and that these plans help their children process and face fears relating to events they hear about in the news. Consider developing a family action plan with your loved ones today.