By Ginger Kadlec — get free updates of new posts here.
The horror of the Bastille Day massacre that happened in Nice, France, yesterday has been captured in numerous photos and videos. Many of them graphic… and easily accessible online.
This evil event is another in a growing line of nightmarish attacks happening around the world. Sadly, our children are eye witnesses to the vivid, graphic images, captured at these gruesome scenes thanks to cell phones, TV, social media, newspapers and more. These incidents are not only scary for we adults, but can be down-right terrifying and confusing to our kids.
So what can parents do to talk with our children about these awful, all-too-real events happening both here in the United States, and around the world?
Talking with Young Children
Yes, even younger children are exposed to information by virtue of the internet, older siblings or just having a TV on in the house. Young children likely don’t fully comprehend the severity or impact of tragic events so it’s important for parents to make a point to sit down and have a conversation with kids to answer questions and reassure them of their own safety.
1. Ask your child what s/he knows about the incident. This provides you a baseline understanding of what your child knows… or “thinks” s/he knows about the event. From there, you can guide the conversation as you deem appropriate for your child’s level of development, feelings and comprehension.
2. Be truthful, but don’t delve into too much detail. At this point, begin to fill-in high-level facts about the incident with your child so s/he has a general understanding of what happened. Please, spare your child graphic details, but as they get older (for example, elementary school aged kids), they will likely inquire more about how and why people may have died, and more. Answer these questions as best you can, then direct the conversation to the next point (#3).
Events like this can leave children feeling unsafe or insecure. Discuss how this event impacts your child and your family.
In the case of Nice, children in the U.S. may relate the Bastille Day fireworks celebration to our own Independence Day festivities. Acknowledge that there are mean, unkind people in the world who try to hurt others, but that you will do everything you can to help make sure your child is safe. Contrast the tragedy with good news, such as, “We attended the 4th of July fireworks at the park a few days ago, had a great time and will plan to go again next year.”
In the case of other emergency events – like severe storms, earthquakes or house fires – talk about your family emergency safety plan and be sure everyone in your home understands what they are to do in the event one of these emergencies were to occur.
4. Do your best to limit your child’s media exposure. This can be tough, especially as kids get older and are using cell phones and the internet, but do the best you can. Regarding internet access to information, you may want to review the URL history of the sites your child is visiting. If you are worried about your child being exposed to extremely graphic content, block the site and have a conversation with your child about what s/he saw or read and how s/he feels about that information.
5. If your child is an internet or social media user, apply similar principles that you would when talking about online pornography. Tell your child…
a. “If you see a video or picture that shows people who were hurt, LOOK AWAY and close the page.”
b. “Come talk with me about what you saw so I can help answer any questions you might have.”
c. “Later on, if you start thinking about what you saw, please come talk with me about it again.”
6. To help stimulate or develop your child’s own sense of security, consider enrolling him/her in a self-defense or martial arts course, or take action to help the victims of the tragedy. About self-defense training, fitness and self-defense guru Jennie Trower writes in a blog entitled, “Empowerment“:
“We know that you are strong, capable and so very worthy already, just as you are. All (self-defense instructors) do is provide an experience and a platform for you to explore that, perhaps in a new way. In our approach to self-defense training, we provide suggestions and tools to stay safer and to enhance the rest of your life. But ultimately it is up to you to decide if, when and how to ever use them.”
In terms of helping victims of a tragic event, children can involve themselves in a number of positive activities including raising funds for victims (walks, runs and lemonade stands rock!), writing letters or drawing pictures of hope and love to send to victims, or even volunteering for community or church groups that support tragedy victims. Through the seemingly simple acts of helping others, we often find that we help ourselves even more. ♥
Talking with Tweens and Teens
The same basic principles hold true with tweens and teens as those noted above for younger children… the primary difference being the degree of information you discuss and share. Tweens and teens are likely exposed to more media images and news, so it’s VITAL to make a point to talk with them about tragic events. In addition to following the steps outlined above (in an age-appropriate manner you identify for your child), take time to discuss broader-reaching issues that align with the incident.
For example, with a terrorist attack like the Nice massacre, you may wish to discuss other societal implications of this tragedy. Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, President of the Child Mind Institute offers brilliant guidance for these discussions. In a blog entitled, “Talking to Kids About Race and Violence in America“, he writes:
- Acknowledge injustice in our society. Children know when adults are hiding things from them, and it makes them feel unsafe.
- Talk about the power of positive action. It helps children to know that adults are working together to make our communities and our country more fair.
- Communicate hope to children. Feeling powerless or passive in the face of bad things makes them more painful.
- Focus on togetherness and our common welfare. We need to stress that if some Americans are vulnerable, none of us should be comfortable.
- Affirm the value of peaceful dissent. Passionate differences of opinion are the lifeblood of this country, but disagreements are never an excuse for violence.
- E pluribus unum. When the conversation turns ugly, our children should know that uniting rather than dividing is the course that gets results.
Parents, while we want to be “strong” for our kids, it’s okay to share some of your feelings with them. While we don’t want to scare or further frighten our children, the authenticity of our own feelings can go a long way to helping our kids better understand what happened, how we can comfort each other and begin a process of healing and moving forward. Encourage them to share their feelings with you, as well.
Keep an open door policy with your kids… about this and other issues in their lives! Having honest conversations about tough subjects like this can actually help open the door to other difficult conversations down the road (like sex, dating, bullying, etc.). Through conversations such as these, you continue laying a foundation of trusted, open communication.
Dealing with Grief
For children (and adults) who have experienced other loss or trauma in their lives, these type of tragic world events can trigger feelings and emotions of grief and sorrow. A wonderful gal, Dr. Sally Downham Miller, published a book, “Mourning and Dancing: A Memoir of Grief and Recovery”, about her own experience with death and how to follow a path toward healing and happiness.
For more information, check out these terrific resources:
Please offer any ideas or strategies you’ve used with kids in times of crisis to help educate and comfort them. The more we collectively share ideas that work, the better off we all will be… especially our kiddos! Thanks!
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and trained child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues. Along with her husband John and pets Lexi and Chase, Ginger enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking, brisk mornings, colorful sunsets and just hangin’ at home with “the Pack”.
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