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talking to kids about tragedy

Orlando Shooting: How to Speak to Your Child about Violent Tragedies

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Many kids think of Orlando as the place where magic happens because it is the home of Disney World.

Over the weekend in Orlando, a popular singer from The Voice Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by a deranged fan while she was signing autographs after a concert. A couple of days later, a man shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 others inside a nightclub also in Orlando.

Children will not be able to avoid overhearing these tragic news items as their parents listen to it on the radio or watch television. Naturally, children may be disturbed as well. It’s the kind of stuff that nightmares are made of.

  • Get Ahead of the News – Don’t wait for your child to discuss it with friends or process it on their own. Bring it up first. As the parent, you know your child and therefore you know how your child will best take the news. You are best to set the tone.
  • React to the Way Your Child Reacts – Based on the follow up questions and reactions from your child about the news, you will know how to go from there. They may be more able and want to know more details. Be ready to answer but not overwhelm or further scare or upset your child with more details than necessary. You want to cut off frightening fantasies.
  • Be Calm – Children model their reaction from you and if you are frantic and highly emotional, your child will absorb and adopt your reaction. It’s okay to be sad and let your child know that as well. Let your child know that we can learn from bad experiences.
  • Be reassuring.  Kids are egocentric and won’t be able to help but think it will happen to them or their family. It’s important to let your child know that you have taken steps to keep them safe and maybe go over plans on what they should do in an active shooter situation or in any other scary event. Children can grow with confidence if they know to tackle on problems head on and not take a head in the sand approach.
  • Be appropriate for the child’s age.  – Be mindful of your child’s age and don’t share too much. Answer your child’s questions as honestly as possible. This is a training for future difficult discussions and sadly this one will not be the last.
  • Let your child know you are available.  – Let your kid know that you are available to answer future questions or concerns. Keep the lines of communication open and fluid. Healing doesn’t start and end with one conversation.
  • Do Something. – A child may feel the need to help. Help your kid write a letter or note to the victims or the victim community. Take her/him with you to volunteer, donate blood or take food down to tragedy victims. Doing something to help also helps your child become a civic member of society. It can also be therapeutic to help others.

Be gentle and do your best, Parents. Godspeed! Our thoughts and prayers are with the Orlando shooting victims and all victims of senseless violence, war and destruction worldwide.