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How to talk to your children about tragedies in the media

Recent community events in Minnesota are challenging for all of us. But, scenes of peaceful protests, death, rioting and violence, can be especially confusing and troubling for our children to understand and to talk about. Like most of us, many young people have likely seen the video showing the death of George Floyd and witnessed its aftermath in our community. How do you as a parent talk about the many tough issues of this tragedy with your children? What should you say and share about what your children are seeing in the news?

Here are a few tips to get the conversation started:

Start the talk

With the exception of very young (i.e. preschool-aged) children, I recommend that you talk to your child first. It's often helpful to start the conversation while you're involved in an activity. This will decrease the intensity of the conversation and help your child feel more comfortable. Start by asking what they have already heard, then focus on correcting misinformation and address your child's concerns. Ask, "What questions do you have?" rather than, "Do you have any questions?" to prompt further discussion. Answer your child’s questions the best you can, but don't be afraid to acknowledge that you may not have all the answers. 

Provide developmentally appropriate information

A general rule of thumb is to follow the "who, what, when, where, why and how" format, providing more general information to younger children and more specific information to older children. An example of a general piece of information that you could give to a very young child is, "some people did bad things and a man died.”

Focus on safety

As much as possible, focus on recovery efforts and the positive ways the community is working together to clean up and fix problems. Allowing your child to contribute to the recovery effort can be a source of empowerment and comfort. With very young children, remind them that they have parents and others who help keep them safe, and that they do not have to worry about bad things happening to them. Older children and teenagers are unlikely to believe you if you tell them nothing bad will happen to them, so it can be helpful to talk instead about these tragic occurrences and to take the opportunity to discuss safety in general. Review any safety plans and talk to your child about what they would do, or who they would contact, in an emergency.

Help your child process events and allow them to react 

Limit exposure to the current events as much as possible, whether it be through media or social media exposure or listening to adult conversations—the younger the child, the less information exposure. Help your child identify his or her emotional reactions and normalize your child's feelings. Although you want to remain calm throughout the conversation, it’s OK to share your own emotions and views about the situation in a developmentally appropriate manner. 

Everybody processes information and emotions differently. Some children or teens may become clingier. They may want to spend more time with you, seek reassurance by asking questions or become more physically affectionate. Others will become more defiant or want to spend more time with friends. If you see significant behavioral changes that last longer than expected and which impact your child's functioning, it may be helpful to talk to a professional counselor.



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