What to say to students when the news is scary
The news can be devastating: Communities are reeling after a mass shooting killed 21 people — including 19 children — at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. That’s after a shooter, motivated by a racist conspiracy theory, shot and killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., and another shooter in Dallas injured three women of Asian descent in what the police chief called “a hate crime.”
These events can be incomprehensible for adults — so how do we talk about them with students?
We spoke with a handful of child development experts about what parents, teachers and other caregivers can say to help kids process all the scary news out there. Here’s what they had to say:
Limit their exposure to breaking news
“We can control the amount of information. We can control the amount of exposure,” says Rosemarie Truglio, senior vice president of curriculum and content at Sesame Workshop.
Truglio says that for starters, try not to let your children experience the news without you. That includes letting the TV or audio play in the background. In 2017, 42 percent of parents of young children told Common Sense Media that the TV is on “always” or “most” of the time.
As a little girl growing up in rural Louisiana, Alison Aucoin remembers her father watching the evening news during the Vietnam War. “The way that our house was set up, it was kind of impossible for me to completely miss it.”
Aucoin vividly recalls the rapid fire of rifles and the shouting of soldiers, but it was two wordsthat the reporters and anchors kept using that truly frightened her.
“[I] heard the words ‘guerrilla warfare’ and … thought, gorillas — like apes,” Aucoin says. “And I literally had a plan for where I would hide in my closet when the gorillas came.”
Truglio says that because we can’t control the news itself, adults need to control the technology that exposes kids to potentially traumatic news.
For big stories, ask: “What have you heard and how are you feeling?”
While it’s important to limit your kids’ exposure to potentially frightening media, some stories are simply too big to avoid. And as kids get older, if they don’t hear about it at home, they’ll almost certainly hear something from classmates at school.
Tara Conley, a media researcher at Montclair State University, says adults should choose a quiet moment to check in with their kids, maybe at the dinner table or at bedtime.
The idea, she says, is to allow kids to “ask questions about what they’re seeing, how they’re feeling and what do they think.” In other words: Give kids a safe space to reflect and share.
Give kids facts and context
Check-ins also allow you to debunk memes, myths and misconceptions, and that’s important in the social media maelstrom, says Holly Korbey, author of Building Better Citizens, a new book on civics education. In the days since the recent Iran news broke, she says, “My own teenagers were showing me these memes and rumors on Instagram spreading about boys being drafted for World War III, no kidding.”
Korbey says, “One of the most important things parents can do in this scary climate is to talk to kids about facts. For example: ‘No, there is not a draft, and no we haven’t started World War III.’ ”
Truglio says that if scary news is happening far from home, the best thing a parent or caregiver can do is to reach for a map. Then, she says, a child could “see distance, that it’s not in their immediate environment.”
Some traumatic events, however, might be closer to home — a school shooting, for example. In that case, it’s important to convey that, overall, such events are incredibly rare. After all, that’s why it’s news.
When they ask why something happened, avoid labels like “bad guys”
Evan Nierman, a father of two, lives in Parkland, Fla. His son turned 11 the day after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and his daughter was 8. He says one of the toughest moments for him as a father was when his kids asked why the shooting happened. “And there’s obviously not a great answer for that. It’s hard to explain.”
Truglio says we should resist the temptation to label anyone “bad guys” or “evil.” It’s not helpful, and it may increase fear and confusion. Instead, she says, talk about people being in pain, being angry and making bad choices. That’s what Nierman and his wife settled on, telling their children that the shooter wasn’t well and needed help.
And according to Truglio, there’s one important thing parents shouldn’t be afraid to say: I don’t know.
“Sometimes we don’t have the answers to all of these whys,” she explains. “It’s important for parents to say … ‘I don’t know why it happened.'”
Click here for the original article from KQED.
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