This article has been translated by the journalist Maria Pena and edited by journalist Carlos Cabrera-Lomelic from the KQED en Español team.
Read it here in English.
The news could be devastating: Communities across the country are shocked after a mass shooting that killed 21 people, including 19 children, at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. That’s after a gunman motivated by a racist conspiracy theory shot and killed 10 people at a convenience store in Buffalo, New York, and another gunman in Dallas injured three women of Asian descent in what the police chief called “a hate crime.” .”
These events can be incomprehensible to adults, so how do we talk about them with children?
We spoke to a group of child development experts about what parents, teachers and other caregivers can say to help kids process all the scary news out there. This is what they told us:
Limit exposure to the latest news
“We can control the amount of information. We can control the amount of exposure,” said Rosemarie Truglio, vice president of curriculum and content, Sesame Workshop.
Truglio says to start with, try to keep your kids from watching the news without you. This means, among other things, that the television or radio is switched on continuously for a long time. In 2017, 42% of parents of young children told Common Sense Media that the TV is ‘always’ or ‘usually’ at home.
Growing up in rural Louisiana during her childhood, Alison Aucoin remembers her father watching the evening news during the Vietnam War. “The way our house was set up made it impossible to avoid it completely.”
Aucoin vividly remembers the rapid fire of the guns and the screams of the soldiers, but it was two words that reporters and anchors were constantly using the ones that really scared her.
“I heard the words ‘guerrilla warfare’ and… I thought of gorillas, like monkeys,” Aucoin says. “And I literally had a plan for where I would hide in my closet when the gorillas came.”
Truglio says that since we cannot control the news ourselves, adults must master the technology that exposes children to potentially traumatic news.
Question: “What have you heard and how are you feeling?”
While it’s important to limit your children’s exposure to potentially scary information, some stories are just too big to avoid. And as kids get older and don’t hear about it at home, they’ll almost certainly hear from their peers at school.
Tara Conley, a media researcher at Montclair State University in New Jersey, says adults should choose a quiet time to talk to their children, such as at the dinner table or before bed.
The idea, he says, is to have kids “ask questions about what they see, how they feel, and what they think.” In other words, give children a safe space to think and share.
Give children data and context
Talking directly to kids destroys memes, myths, and misconceptions, and that’s important in the social media whirlwind, says Holly Korbey, author of Building better citizens (link in English only), a new book on citizenship education. Once, in the days after international news was released, he said: “My own teenagers showed me these memes and rumors on Instagram spreading that children were being drafted into World War III, no kidding.”
Korbey says, “One of the most important things parents can do in this climate of fear is to talk to kids about the facts. For example, ‘No, there’s no draft and we haven’t started World War III yet.'”
When asked why something happened, avoid using labels like ‘bad’
Evan Nierman, father of two, lives in Parkland, Florida. 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 hardest moments for him as a father was when his kids asked him why the shooting happened. “And of course there is no good answer to that. It is difficult to explain.”
Truglio says we should resist the temptation to label someone as ‘bad’ or ‘bad’. It is not helpful and can increase anxiety and confusion. Instead, she says, talk about people suffering, being angry, and making bad decisions. That’s what Nierman and his wife decided when they told their children that the shooter was unwell 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 these whys,” he explains. “It’s important for parents to say, ‘I don’t know why this happened.'”
Encourage children to process history through play and art
Children often try to understand what they see and hear through art and creative play. Sometimes it can be disconcerting for adults to watch children act or draw something scary or violent, but this kind of play serves an important purpose.
Conley says “the game is part of the reconstruction of the stories themselves [de los niños]She calls it “making meaning” and says adults do it too, discussing stories with friends or even sharing memes on social media. “It also helps us understand the world around us… when they bombard us with information,” he explains. “and help us distinguish credible information.”
Emphasize how people help and care for each other
Fred Rogers, the endearing children’s TV host, passed on this advice from his mother: “If something scary happens, find the helpers. You’ll always find the helpers.”
Truglio did so when she spoke to her then-young son about the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. The shooting happened on a Friday, and she kept him off television all weekend.
“We didn’t turn on the television until President Obama spoke and there was a memorial service,” Truglio said. “We focused on the positive, how people came together and took care of each other.”
There is some evidence that talking about helpers really makes a difference in the way children see their world. After the 1999 Columbine school shooting, Sesame Workshop studied schoolchildren’s perception of the world through their drawings. The images were full of violence, Truglio says: “guns and knives and dead people.”
But after the 9/11 attacks, just two years later, media coverage changed, he says, focusing more on themes like “The country is strong. The country is coming together. We are united. We are coming here.” through.” And this made all the difference for the kids, their drawings showed American flags and police or firefighters as heroes.
act together in a positive way
Alison Aucoin, who shared her memories and fears of the Vietnam War, is white, her daughter, Edelawit, was adopted from Ethiopia. Edelawit was just 7 years old when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
“I was afraid something like this would happen to me,” says Edelawit, now 12, and since then, every time a similar police-related shooting has happened, she and her mother follow certain steps. First, his mother shares the news.
“I always have time to take it in,” says Edelawit. “And then she tells me what I can do to protect myself. And then we’ll protest.’
“When we talk to our kids,” says Conley, “we also need to show them how we help, and ask, ‘How do you see yourself as a helper in these situations?’
You may consider taking your child to a peaceful gathering or protest, collecting donations together, or writing to an elected official. The sense of action can dramatically reduce the child’s anxiety.
In other words, don’t just look for helpers… sea you the helper.
Additional Resources (information available in English and Spanish)
Common Sense Media: how to talk to your kids about the news
Child Mind Institute: Articles on Childhood Trauma and Grief