How To Talk To Your Kids About A World Crisis
Between the Paris attacks in November, Sandy Hook a year or so before, and now the mass shooting in Orlando, parents have, sadly, never had more opportunity to talk about traumatic world events with their children. It can feel like a razor-sharp balancing act: how do we answer their questions while still protecting their innocence and not giving them so much information that we increase their anxiety?
Especially given that so many kids associate Orlando with being The Happiest Place On Earth, it’s quite possible that this tragedy has reached them in a way that others have not. It’s important to listen to what your kids are saying about the shooting, and what they’re not. They may have heard some incorrect facts from friends or media snippets, so make sure that you provide an open forum where they can discuss what they’ve heard and get the straight story (more about what to say in a minute). Don’t minimize their anxieties – “You’re fine, you don’t need to worry about it” never actually left anyone feeling better – but reassure them with understanding and confidence.
What you say and how much you say will really depend on the ages of your kids. Little ones under the age of five should probably be told very little about the whole situation. Kids this age can have a hard time keeping facts and imagination straight, so limit their exposure and watch what you say around them.
Once kids hit school, though, this strategy is less effective and it’s important that they be met with openness and understanding. Follow the lead of your children, though, and see what they know and what they want to know. Facts can be reassuring; understanding helps us to feel more in control of a situation. But nitty gritty details can be overwhelming and upsetting, so focus on giving the information you think your child needs to hear without giving too much.
If you find it hard not to be emotional when you’re talking about this, no one would blame you. Your kids might find it a bit alarming, but just reassure them when something like this happens it’s normal to feel sad, even if you don’t know anyone involved. A person can be both “sad” and “ok” at the same time; let them know that you’re just feeling sad right now but overall you’re ok.
Even though these events are rare, don’t ever dismiss your child’s fears about something happening to them or someone they love. It’s natural to feel scared and to wonder about our own safety when something like this happens, but reassure them that it would be very, very unlikely. (Don’t say it could never happen or use other certainties, as your kids will know you can’t make those kinds of promises and you’ll just lose credibility.)
Sometimes what helps us to feel better in times of stress, is to feel as though we’re in control, at least in our own little way, of what’s going on. If your kids, particularly the older ones, want to do something to help or show their solidarity with Orlando residents, talk about what they could do. They could make a donation to Equality Florida’s GoFundMe campaign to support the victims and their families. On a more local level, though, remind your kids that love is love. Encourage them to be good citizens of the world by speaking out against bullying, homophobia or racism, to ask questions and get to know people who may seem strange or different, and to welcome the opportunity to be wrong in judgments they make about other people. Modeling an acceptance of differences and a concern for our fellow humans is something that all parents can do for their kids – in the long run, this is what will end these kinds of tragedies.