How Do I Talk to My Children About Violence in the News?

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Q: How do I talk to my children about violence in the news?

When it comes to children and violence in the news, regardless of your child’s age, your first goal is to keep communication lines open. Discussion helps validate a child’s feelings. Next, you want to keep conversations age-appropriate. My advice is to trust your gut. You know your child best.

Children as young as 4 will likely hear something about major events in the news. Ask your child what he or she knows and thinks about the event. Acknowledge that something scary happened and people got hurt. How deeply you go into the facts depends on your child. Children who tend to be anxious or live in the area where the event occurred may need more answers and comfort.

For younger children, minimize exposure to the news by keeping the family computer or tablet where you can monitor online time. If you and your preschooler are watching TV and breaking news about a violent act comes on, turn off the TV.

Another coping tool for little ones is to discuss ways they can help those who got hurt. Perhaps they can donate a piece of clothing, a toy or pennies from their piggy bank.

“Tweens” (between 9 and 12) generally know more than we think in terms of violent world events. Between the internet, social media, TV and friends, it’s impossible to shield them.

The best way to help your tween is to ask how he or she feels about the event. And then let your child talk. Tweens often think no one’s listening to them anyway, so they may hide their fears. Letting them speak freely is a strong show of parental support.

Also watch for signs that a violent event triggered overwhelming fear. Distress can develop after witnessing an event over and over again on TV until it feels personal. If this happens, seek guidance from a school counselor, therapist or your pediatrician.

I would caution parents against over-shielding. Kids are bound to hear something. Pretending something doesn’t exist has been shown to worsen a child’s anxiety.

Read tips from Melissa Wellner, MD, to avoid desensitization to violence in video games.
Contributor
Melissa Wellner, MDMelissa Wellner, MD, is a child psychiatrist with Anne Arundel Medical Group Mental Health Specialists. To reach her office, call 410-573-9000.

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