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Tips on talking to your children about tragedies

A new guide from Common Sense Media has some helpful guidelines
There’s a new guide out for parents with some helpful guidelines, depending on your child’s age.
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 6:13 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The massacre of elementary school students in Texas has many parents revisiting what to share about school shootings and safety with their own kids.

Many parents are now weighing what children need to know for safety versus what makes them feel safe. There’s a new guide out for parents with some helpful guidelines, depending on your child’s age, from Common Sense Media, a group that frequently reviews media for kids and advocates for children.

One of the guide’s biggest - and obvious - takeaways is age. How old your child is will largely determine the best way to talk about such a difficult topic.

The report says children under 7 seem to understand simple ideas best and are very focused on their immediate family.

Watch for signs of stress like whiny or difficult behavior at home.

Ask open-ended questions to them, such as “What did you hear?” and “What do you think is going on?”

Use simple sentences and even oversimplify, such as “Someone hurt people.”

Reassure them that they’re safe and that people are working on the problem.

We asked a counselor if there was anything critical to say.

“For young children that is important to say that this is not likely to happen to you,” said Mark Loewen of Launchpad Counseling.

The report also emphasizes that drills keep them safe.

For teens and tweens, it’s a little more complicated. These children are developing their own moral beliefs.

With more exposure to peers, social media and news, it means they’ll know more whether you tell them or not.

“Talking to them at their level in a concrete way, reassuring them, telling them that mom is here, that dad is here,” said Marisa Azaret, a licensed clinical psychologist.

The report says to state the facts, be clear and follow whatever timeline your child needs.

For example, tell them that “I want us to take a few minutes to discuss what happened. Let’s talk either now or a little later.”

Encourage them to express themselves and why they feel how they do. Read their cues and back down if they don’t look ready.

It’s also OK to share your feelings and say you’re upset, which models empathy. Talk about the importance of drills and help your child feel secure.

Be sure to watch for signs of anxiety and keep communication open and stay involved.

The report also goes into some ways you can shape your days and model behavior to support your kids and their needs.

Click/tap here for the full report.

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