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July 8, 2016

How to talk with kids about events in the news

How do you talk with children about what's happening in the news when it is difficult for you as a parent to understand or even talk about?

Should you even discuss it with them? And, how do you help them understand things they may overhear even if you've chosen not to talk about the event?

Whether you chose to talk with your young children about tragic events in the news is a decision only you can make as a parent, but it's important that they hear the facts from you. Remember: a child's ability to understand, process and cope with information is based on his/her age and developmental stage.

To start the conversation, ask what they've already heard. Most will likely have heard something. And, ask them if they have any questions about the information. If they say they haven't heard about it, you might start the conversation with a simple explanation of what happened.

Depending on their age, older children and teens may have more questions and want additional information. Remember to be straightforward, but generally speaking — there's no need to get into graphic details or images. That is exceedingly difficult given that many recent tragedies have been caught on personal video. Given how readily accessible some of the graphic footage is, it's important to talk with kids about what they have seen. For kids that may have access to the Internet, encourage them to limit their viewing of graphic videos. You can't prevent them from accessing sites, but helping them to understand why it can be overwhelming can help (that goes for parents, too).

Be patient

Kids react in different and sometimes unexpected ways. And it may take time for them to process what they've seen or learned. They may have questions and those questions may come up at other times, not just when you're talking about the event. Take the time to answer them. If they seem upset but don't know why, be patient. Also, be patient with yourself. These are incredibly complex issues we are facing and there are no simple answers. You're not expected to have answers, but you can help provide support and reassurance for your child.

Look for signs of stress

Some children may be affected by the news, and may have trouble sleeping or develop fears about going outside. They may have physical complaints like headaches or feeling unwell. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if the reactions are typical for their age, or they're having problems coping. If you are concerned, talk with your child's pediatrician.

Show your affection

It's always a good time to show your child extra affection. Hugs can go a long way to helping kids feel secure during an uncertain time.