As the twelfth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, today is a time of reflection for many. It can also be an opportunity to better understand how to talk with your children about scary news or tragic events. CNN and PBS have great articles that offer tips for explaining what’s happening while also making sure your children feel safe. In fact, while the articles focus on helping children cope with disturbing images and events, they may be valuable resources for adults, too.
Remember, it is normal to be concerned or feel anxious after hearing scary news or witnessing a tragedy. But you can take a few steps to reduce this stress and regain a sense of normalcy.
Take a news break. The 24-hour news cycle keeps us informed of everything happening at every moment of every day. The rise of social media, including Facebook and Twitter, have contributed to our feeling of always being connected. The American Psychological Association recommends limiting the amount of time your children watch news reports, as constant exposure after an event could increase their anxiety.
Ask and answer questions. Don’t assume you know how your children feel. Instead, ask questions to determine how they understand what happened. For example, you could ask “What did you hear?” and “What did you think?” Ask what they are afraid of. Then answer those questions—but without giving unnecessary details. As part of your answer, reassure your children that they are safe.
Find solace or take action. The time after hearing scary news or witnessing a tragic event can be emotional. Find an age-appropriate activity you and your child can do together to work through those emotions. You might say a prayer, raise money, sign a petition or send a card or letter.
Focus on the positive. Psychologists, religious leaders and other positive-thinkers encourage us to keep in mind that tragedies are rare. Rather than thinking about the disturbing images and events, concentrate on what is working well.