On June 12, 2016 a mass shooting occurred inside a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Children, like adults, often have lots of questions after hearing about such a tragic incident. When a tragedy like this happens, it can be extremely difficult for parents to figure out how to comfort their children, how to make them feel safe, and how to talk to them about what happened.
Consider Your Child’s Age and Maturity Level
When responding to your children’s questions or giving information, it is important to consider your child’s developmental level. For younger children, in their preschool years, it is best to give little information. At this young age, children have difficulties understanding their own emotions. You can answer their questions, but do not give many details.
As children grow older into elementary and middle school years, they will likely have more questions. Let your child lead the way with the discussion. Again, it is likely best practices to limit the amount of details you are giving your child.
Into the high school years, your child will likely have more access to coverage related to the tragedy, including social media or news stations. As parents, you can start a conversation with your child by asking them what they know and if they have any questions.
While speaking about the event, as painful as it may be for you, try to remain calm. If your child sees you very upset, it can easily trigger a similar response from your child.
Feel free to take deep breaths during the conversation to try to help you relax. You can always excuse yourself and finish the conversation at another time if you are experiencing really intense emotions.
One of the most important things that you can do as a parent is listen to your child. You can show your child that you are listening by giving eye contact, responding verbally, and nodding your head. Try not to interrupt your child while they are speaking.
Once your child is done talking, try to reflect back on what you heard. You can do this by summarizing a bit of what your child said. The reason this is important is because it shows that you are listening, but also gives your child the opportunity to correct you, in case you misunderstood.
For younger children especially, limiting the media exposure is beneficial. Try to record news programs and watch them after your child is already asleep. If your child is very interested in watching the news, you may want to watch the program first and then decide if it is appropriate for your child’s developmental age.
Another important thing to do is to reflect back your child’s feelings. An example of this may be: “You look really worried.” Once you have done this, normalize the feeling by explaining that many children feel the same way and it is a normal reaction. By doing this, you are providing reassurance, but also allowing your child to be open and come to you with feelings.
Make Them Feel Safe
Explain that tragic events like this are really rare, but also remind your child that there are good people in the world that are helping others and trying to prevent future attacks.
Another way to help your child feel safe is to keep the routines the same – get up in the morning, go to school, take your child to soccer practice, etc. These routines can be important in helping your family return to normalcy, but also help to show your child that the family is safe.
Do not forget to take care of yourself in the process. Seek support from others, exercise, get quality sleep, and speak to a therapist if needed.