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Tips to ease your child's fear after hearing scary news

Gun violence in schools has sadly become part of our reality. After hearing news reports or seeing updates on social media, many children have questions about how—or why—these type of incidents happen. While as parents, you can't always answer the hows and whys, you can offer love, support and a listening ear.  

Here are some tips for talking to your younger children when there is scary news:  

  • Help your child feel secure and loved. Tell them you love them, give lots of hugs and kisses, and offer blankets or teddy bears for comfort and safety. Let them know you will always do what you can to protect them from danger AND you will teach them how to protect themselves if they were to come in contact with someone who they felt was dangerous.
  • Be aware of your own emotional reactions. Kids will look to their parents for how to respond to a given situation, especially one that can cause a lot of emotion. Watch your own anxiety about sending them to school after such tragedies as this anxiety can be felt by all children.
  • Take your cues from them. If you decide to talk to your children about these events, take your cues from them. Offer the information your child is seeking, and ask questions to help guide your conversation. It's important to listen and let them talk. Ask if they have any questions or feelings about what they've heard on the news or among their peers. Answer their questions honestly, but feel free to use less detail. Their developing minds might not understand what to do with all the information. Example phrases include, "Someone hurt other people and did a bad thing. Hurting people is never the answer." Or "Most people are very good people and don't hurt others." If your child comes across someone they feel is mean or hurtful, they are allowed to scream or run away from that situation. If your child asks about the families of those grieving, let them know the families are supported by their loved ones and those in their community.  If he or she wants, your child can write a letter to the family expressing condolences.
  • Limit your child's television viewing of these events. If they must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn it off. Re-watching the same scenes can lead children to believe the event is recurring. Limiting this exposure, as well as exposure to adult conversations about the event, may reduce stress in children.
  • Maintain a "normal" routine. To the extent possible, stick to your family's normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc. This regular routine can reinforce a sense of security in children.

With older children/teens, I'd suggest the following: 

  • Turn off social media. At first, this may seem stressful for your teen, but shutting off social media and disconnecting with events in the world (especially the tragic events) may be beneficial.
  • Learn mindfulness to help calm down the worry. Check out our Change to Chill videos to learn more.  
  • Take action. Encourage your teen to voice his or her concerns by getting active in local government. Also consider volunteering to help support those in need or those who lost someone.
  • Create a family emergency plan. Hold a meeting with your family to explain what to do and where to go in case of an emergency. Update phone numbers, addresses and contact information, and post an emergency information page in a central location. Talk to older teens about what they could do if they are ever confronted with a similar situation. Being prepared in a conscious way can be helpful, but too much anxiety can be debilitating and may lead to impairment and distress.  

In general, encourage your children to continue living their daily life. As much as we see these types of tragedies, there is still a low probability it will happen to them.

If you have concerns about your child's reaction to scary news or you feel extra support is needed, consider talking with his or her pediatrician or a pediatric psychologist.

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