Discussing Scary News with Children

From the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings, to school shootings, to wars and natural catastrophes, it can feel like a big, bad world to children. As parents,  how do we explain such frightening events to our of children?

Dr. Samuel Goldstein, psychiatrist and co-author of Raising Resilient Children believes we should begin by keeping our children away from a continual barrage of frightening images. “I think parents need to turn off the television and recognize that although we expose them to the same kinds of media and information that we expose ourselves to, they lack the experience and they lack the thinking skills to cope with those kinds of phenomenon.”

Dr. Goldstein adds that turning off the TV does not mean that parents should put their heads in the sand, because it’s nearly impossible to prevent children from learning about this disturbing news. Instead, Dr. Goldstein suggests that we discuss these events in an age appropriate manner. “Although it’s sometimes convenient to avoid talking about these kinds of subjects, parents should make an effort at the dinner table to talk with their children. This way, parents can listen and learn and understand what their children are thinking and feeling, and to provide support.”

Dr. Cynthia Last, author of Help for Worried Kids agrees that by talking about scary news such as this horrific shooting at an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut helps children feel less fearful. Last says, “we need to first explain to children that if they’re fearful of a situation on the news, that they need to understand that it’s a very infrequent event. That’s why it’s news. But we need to also give the child information as to how they’re protected so they have all the information that they need to know that they are not in jeopardy.”

Overall, when it comes to this tragic story, parents should act as a filter, so that children aren’t exposed to frightening stories without a chance to discuss them within the safety of family. We can’t protect children from the stories in the news, but we can help them put them into perspective so that they do not live in a continual state of fear and anxiety.

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