Turn on the TV, radio or computer, and your family is bound to see startling images and hear talking heads discussing, from their perspective, a devastating event. In the Tucson attack, a 9 year old girl was killed, which brings it even closer to home for children. Depending on their age and level of sensitivity, children will internalize this information in different ways. Grandparents may take this opportunity to start conversations with the parents and children about these issues.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Open discussion is paramount but it is also important to think about the age and temperament of each individual child. The threat of anything like this happening to them is probably uppermost in their minds. And fantasy can take hold and intensify the fear. As the ever wise Fred Rogers explained: “In times of crisis, children want to know, "Who will take care of me?" They're dependent on adults for their survival and security. They're naturally self-centered. They need to hear very clearly that their parents (and grandparents) are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe. They also need to hear that people in the government and other grownups they don’t even know are working hard to keep them safe, too.” http://www.fci.org/new-site/par-tragic-events.html
Talking With Children
While we, as adults, want to hear, see, read and know everything about events, it’s not necessary for the kids to know all the gory details. Encourage the children to talk about their feelings, and listen to their cues as to how much information they really need. We can reassure them that our job is to do everything we can to protect them. This is an important declaration for all the children. However, as children grow up, their reality will change and simple reassurances may not cut it. “By providing consistent support and an accepting environment, you can help reduce children’s anxieties and fears.” (Talking With Kids About Tough Issues – Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now, 1999( http://www.childrennow.org/index.php/learn/talking_with_kids/ )
Take A Stand
Be clear about your own values and those of the parents. Listen carefully to the questions children ask, and then respond honestly and reassuringly. For instance, if you’re in favor of gun control, explain your position and show how it could have impacted the situation. You have the right and the responsibility to explain your values.
Some Very Helpful Hints from Fred Rogers
Although this was written for parents, it certainly applies to great-grandparents. We feel it can’t be stated better than this:
• Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
• Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure.
• Give your child extra comfort and physical affection, like hugs or snuggling up together with a favorite book. Physical comfort goes a long way towards providing inner security. That closeness can nourish you, too.
• Try to keep regular routines as normal as possible. Children and adults count on their familiar pattern of everyday life.
• Plan something that you and your child enjoy doing together, like taking a walk, going on a picnic, having some quiet time, or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, in good times and in bad.
• Even if children don't mention what they've seen or heard in the news, it can help to ask what they think has happened. If parents don't bring up the subject, children can be left with their misinterpretations. You may be really surprised at how much your child has heard from others.
• Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and volunteers. It's reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help others in this world.
• Let your child know if you're making a donation, going to a town meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children to know that adults take many different active roles and that we don't give in to helplessness in times of worldwide crisis.
Resources for You and Your Family
We are so impressed by the Family Communications website and the National Campaign to Support Parents, that we’re providing links that they and others recommend. It’s worth it to check these out.
Fred Rogers talks about Tragic Events in the News
Full Report –Talkwithkids.org
American Psychological Association
American Academy of Pediatrics
Children Now/Kaiser Family Foundation
Kaiser Family Foundation
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Educators for Social Responsibility