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Talking to Children About Tragic Events

Dorathy Gass

Off the cusp of the devastating terrorist attacks which recently happened in Paris, many parents are left wondering how to approach this topic with their children. Brutal images of violence and hate leave adults questioning the state of humanity; so how individuals help their children understand and come to terms with these horrific events?
How much information to share really depends on your child, their age, and their sensitivity. Most experts agree that children under the age of five years really do not need to know what has happened, or be shown any media coverage on the event.

Moving up the ladder of childhood, kids between the ages of six to eleven can be exposed to some information, that is the basic facts, and very little media coverage. Post-9/11, research indicated that those kids who were repeatedly shown media coverage regarding the tragedy had increased anxiety, versus the children who were shown less media coverage of this event. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement to parents, warning them to show care when it came to exposing images of the Paris attacks to their kids. As per the statement, they relayed that as pediatricians, they understand that violence has increased effects on kids, even if they are only exposed to it via media sources. The AAP provided parents additional resources on how to engage in dialogue with their children regarding tragic events.

It is also vital to talk to your children, in an open forum; where you listen to their feelings, and provide answers to their questions. Allow them to express how they feel, and do not blow off what they are saying. It is also important to let them know that, while we see these images in the media, these events are quite rare, and there is a security system in place to protect them. Reassurance is key.

It also helps for you, as the parent, to acknowledge your own fears, to help connect with your kids and to strengthen their feelings of safety. Showing your children to have courage, will help hinder their fears as well. At the end of the day, you are your child’s first real role model.

CNN reports for those of you with teenagers, the first step in helping them cope, is trying to find out what they have seen or heard first. Unlike younger children, it is difficult and unlikely that parents can control their television and social media exposure. They may not have much to say at first, which is okay. However, an open dialogue of what has happened, and a discussion on feelings is the best tactic to help your teen get through this difficult time.

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