As news continues to come in about the horrific attacks in Paris, you may find your children searching for answers and reassurance about their own safety.
Two video kits from Sesame Street that can help you and your child talk about tragedy
An age-by-age guide for talking about the news with your kids from PBS
A collection of resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help families, teachers, and schools cope with the aftermath of school shootings
Our story about keeping your child’s school safe
How to talk to kids about tragedies they see on TV and online from the Child Development Institute
We spoke with Dr. Stevan Weine, professor of psychiatry and director of the University of Illinois at Chicago International Center on Responses to Catastrophes, after the school shooting in Connecticut for some tips to help discuss it with kids. His tips are just as appropriate today as terrorism again looms in everyone’s thoughts.
Listen to your children. Let them talk and ask questions; let them say what they’re afraid of. Kids sometimes know more than you think they do-they hear adults talk or they hear the television.
Reassure them. Tell them how hard the adults in their life are working to make them safe and that at home and at their school and in their city and their neighborhood, they’re safe.
Let them set the tone and pace for the discussion and proceed on a need-to-know basis. “What you don’t want to do is overwhelm children with too much information or too many scary images.”
Limit children’s exposure to media. “When children see a story about that on the media, they might think it’s happening right in their immediate vicinity, and that’s not good.”
If kids ask why something like this happens, parents “need to look in their own soul and try to explain in an honest way how such a horrible thing can happen, whether they explain it in terms of evil or illness or crime. Every parent has a different explanatory system.”
Try to stick with your normal routine. “It’s important for parents to not only say reassuring things, but act calm and normal themselves, because the children will pick up on all the nonverbal signals from parents.
Most kids are resilient and will absorb this kind of scary news and keep going or bounce back, Weine says. But if a child’s play begins involving violence or death, if they’re drawing lots of scary images, if they’re not sleeping or eating or concentrating well, if they’re more sullen or withdrawn, it may be time to seek professional help.
This story was first published in 2012.