How to have an open conversation with children about tragedy

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The news has been flooded with violence. In the past month alone, the United States has had 45 mass shootings. Many of these frightful situations are happening where people buy their groceries, or even just go to work.

This news can be difficult to process for some children. Kids turn to stable relationships to help buffer this stress. The feeling of protection is crucial for a child’s development, as children feel safe based on their closest contacts, not necessarily their perception of the outside world.

Dr. John Petersen with Family Psychology in South Bend explains children’s first reaction to these situations is to ask questions.

“Ultimately, this can bring up sensitivities to safety or risks of the unknown. Similar to the pandemic, risks of health or things typically of how life goes, this is another element. Children can bring up questions about safety or will we be going to school next week, you can answer those appropriately at the age of them,” says Dr. Petersen.  

Dr. Petersen emphasizes to help children feel safe by explaining in all of this bad there is good. Help them write letters, or light candles to be a part of helping in the aftermath of tragedy.

“Listen to what the child already knows, then as their thoughts and feelings about that almost always you can normalize thoughts and feelings. Honoring those is important or it can come across dismissive, and if they have questions answer those honestly. But do not give more information than you have to give,” says Dr. Petersen.

Dr. Petersen also says if you see signs of stress on children such as inability to sleep, or socialize with peers, it might be best practice to have an expert work with your child through some of these stresses.

You can find information for Family Psychology here.

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