How to talk to children about tragedies and violent news stories

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By: Mary Kuhlman/Michigan News Service

LANSING, Mich. – It seems acts of violence like the deadly Kalamazoo shootings on Saturday night are making headlines more often these days, and experts say such violence can be distressing for anyone, especially children.

Dr. Jeanette Scheid, an associate professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, explains some children may express fear or concern in the wake of a tragic event, and even feel that they or their loved ones are in danger.

Scheid encourages adults to offer an open space for children to express their feelings, and to realize that it may take more than one conversation.

“Kids might be reassured after a conversation with a parent, and they might find themselves a day or two later coming back with a recurrence of some of the same worries, or even something that in their minds is connected in a new way that they need to ask about,” she explains.

Scheid says parents should answer questions as openly and honestly as possible, considering the child’s developmental age.

And if a child seems to have a persistent change in patterns or routines, or continued distress, she recommends speaking with a primary care physician.

The recent events are also an opportunity to discuss the differences among people, says Scheid, while avoiding generalizations and stereotypes. She adds parents should also check their own behavior.

“Children are watching their parents’ reaction to events all the time,” she points out. “So, limiting access and being able to manage distress with reasonable honesty is probably going to be helpful.”

Scheid says it’s a good idea to shield children from what she calls the bombardment of news.

“If TVs are on in the house or if radios are on in the house, it’s going to be important to be aware of whether kids are around,” she explains. “And maybe limit those kinds of exposures, especially since they do tend to show those same images over and over.”