Talking to your kids about tragedies in the news

By now, you’ve likely read or heard about the violence that took place at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” According to the Denver Post, a gunman entered the theater and allegedly shot 71 people, killing at least 12. Police arrested a suspect, who is in custody.

We at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota are disturbed and saddened by this tragedy, and we extend our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by it.

Today and over the next several days and weeks, the story around this mass shooting will continue to develop in local, national and world news outlets, as well as on social media. As a parent, you want to protect your children in every way, including sheltering them from this horrific event. Yet they may still be exposed. They may hear about the shooting from friends and other adults, social channels like Facebook and the news. Tragedies can hit home – no matter where they happen.

We reached out to some of our therapists and child life specialists, who offered tips about how to talk to children when there’s a tragedy:

Limit their exposure to media coverage

    • Don’t assume your children won’t pay attention to anything that isn’t “kid” programming. News media often display dramatic images that capture the attention of young children.
    • Be aware that media may break into a children’s program with updates.
    • Choose to watch a DVD or listen to a CD instead of watching TV or listening to the radio.
    • Consider activities away from media sources such as going to the park, reading books or playing board games.

Watch what your child watches and discuss what you see and hear together

    • Ask your children what they think and feel about what they hear and see.
    • Clarify any misconceptions they have about the information presented in the media.
    • Be certain to include information that older children may receive through social media and texting.
    • Monitor adult conversations. Children will often listen when adults are talking and may confuse facts for opinions.

Reassure your child of their own safety

    • Remind your children that you love them and are doing everything you can to keep them safe.
    • Educate them about the role of community service agencies such as police and firefighters that help to keep them safe.
    • Acknowledge a child’s emotions and take them seriously. Don’t try to minimize or talk them out of their fears.
    • Answer their questions directly but don’t give them more information than necessary.

Pay attention to changes in your child that may be a result of what they have seen or heard

    • Younger children are significantly more impacted by the reactions of adults around them as well as the visual images on television. They are more likely to exhibit behavioral changes as a result.
    • Older children may need to talk about what happened and their feelings about the events. They may ask more questions related to the event/attack or make speculations through “what if” questions.
    • Children may exhibit behaviors related to stress such as generalized fear that something might happen, changes in sleep habits or appetites, avoidance of places that are similar to the site of the attack/shooting, poor concentration and separation anxiety.

Be honest with your teenager

  • Be up front and frank. Teens have a higher understanding of the world than young children.
  • Invite them to share their opinions. They have them.
  • Be aware of their reluctance to go to a movie theater or similar environment. Be willing to accompany them until they feel more comfortable.
  • Talk about ways they can protect themselves and create a plan together should they find themselves in a dangerous situation.

For additional information about talking with your children about tragedies and trauma, please visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.



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