Sad things happen every day – in our personal lives, to friends and family, and people we don’t know.
We are all touched by global tragedies broadcast on the news, but atrocities such as this week’s Florida school shooting can be particularly confronting for children.
They may ask questions about what has happened and why, and worry it will happen to them.
As parents, we naturally want to protect our children from tragedy.
However, rather than avoiding explanations, brushing off their questions or telling them not to worry, it is important to talk through their concerns and how they are feeling.
“The important thing is to listen to them,” says Pauline Connelly, Assistant Director, Centacare.
“Don’t send them out to play when they ask about what has happened, as they will only take their fears and worries outside with them.”
Focus on making them feel safe in their immediate world rather than on their fears associated with the events – often very faraway – they have seen or heard on the news.
American educator Fred Rodgers once said: “When I was a boy and would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, `look for the helpers, you will always find people helping’”.
This is valuable advice and a good place to start. Looking for the helpers amidst tragedy is a useful way to begin conversations with children about sad events.
Use age-appropriate language that builds their sense of safety and security, and acknowledge their emotions. Give them some facts but not the brutal ones.
Discussion regarding the recent tragedy in Florida might be:
“A very sad thing happened at a school in the US. A man made a bad choice and hurt a lot of students, and some people died. Some students were taken to hospital where doctors and nurses are looking after them. Usually schools are safe and fun places to be and the police are working hard to find out why this happened.”
It is important to focus on all the people who do help to keep us safe.
You could also mention ambulance officers, school principals, extended family, firefighters and even your child’s sports coaches and babysitters – all the people who keep them safe at different times in their life.
Talking to children about the people who protect them and then posing some `what if’ questions about who would keep them safe in the event of an emergency or sad time can reassure and help your child develop resilience.