Today’s guest post is from Aaron Anderson a Westminster, Colorado therapist who blogs about family and relationships at The Relationship Rx.
With the recent tragedies such as the ones in Boston, Newtown and elsewhere, many parents feel confused about how to talk to their children about such tragic events. Children have a natural curiosity, so when they see things on TV they’re going to ask about them. This can create awkward moments for parents who have to come up with answers quick.
What’s even worse for Coloradoans is that we don’t just see these tragedies on national TV. Recently, we have seen tragedies in our own schools and communities. We have had friends and loved ones affected by the awful events that occurred with Jessica Ridgeway and at the Century 16 multiplex theater in Aurora. We haven’t just seen these events on TV, we’ve heard about them from people who were there – and so have our kids.
These awful events often leave parents at a loss of how to talk to your children about them. Below are five ways to talk to your children about tragedies in ways that not only help them to understand what happened, but also help them learn from them and help them feel safe.
Keep a Normal Routine. Children thrive on predictability and reliability. When tragic events occur, however, they question how predictable things are and they feel less safe. You can help your children by keeping them in their normal, predictable routine so they feel a sense of normalcy and safety despite what events are going on elsewhere.
Talk explicitly About Safety. As mentioned above, when tragic events occur children worry about their own safety. Don’t just tell them that they will be safe. Tell them how they’ll be safe. Tell them about how police officers are being more vigilant, and how you as a parent are talking to people (such as principals and teachers) to make sure they are safe at school and other important places.
Talk About It As Often As They’d Like: Parents think they need to have ‘the talk’ with their kids about tragedies. More accurately, however, parents need to think of it more like having ‘the talks’. The more you talk with your child about it, the more questions they’ll have answered and the safer they’ll feel. This also relieves some pressure off of you as a parent because you don’t have to cram all the information you can into one long awkward conversation.
Grieve With Them. Too often, parents try to hide their emotions from their children. They think that if their children believe they aren’t worried then their children won’t worry, either. However, children worry about sad things no matter how strong of a face their parents have. Instead of trying to hide it, talk with your children openly about your feelings. Tell them that you’re sad for those who got hurt and their relatives and friends. This gives your children strong examples of how to emotionally cope with difficulties and how to move forward even though things are emotionally tough.
Help Them Learn From it. Part of your job as a parent is to teach your child morals and values that will help them succeed and contribute to society. When these events happen it’s important to teach your children important life lessons that will keep them safe and will help them in the future. This will also help your child be safe because they’ll know important things they can do to keep themselves out of harm’s way.
No parent wants their child to think about the tragedies that happened in Boston, Newtown, or here in Colorado. Most parents don’t like talking about it themselves, let alone like talking to their children about it. But following these recommendations can help your child cope through them and even come out stronger for it.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Westminster, Colorado. In addition to his private practice, he is a speaker, presenter, adjunct faculty for CU, and is a regular contributor to exceptional marriage and family blogs, websites and magazines like the one you’re reading now. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. Check out his blog The Relationship Rx and his twitter profile @MarriageDr for more great information about marriage and families.