How to talk to your children about violence.

Violence is a topic that is hard to avoid. Children see news stories on television, overhear their parents talking about the most recent shooting, and even hear other children talking about it. Seeing and hearing about violence in the news can cause children to worry that something similar could happen to them or their loved ones. Younger children may not be able to distinguish between real news and movies, but by the time a child is 7 or 8 years old, what they see or hear can cause real fear in his or her own life. While talking about violence with your kids can be uncomfortable and not always easy to navigate, it is important to hear and understand their concerns, and give them reliable information that can calm their fears and help them to cope.

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So how do you respond when your child hears a news story that is upsetting? The key is to be honest and help your child feel safe. Encourage your children to talk openly about their fears and listen to their thoughts and points of view. What you say and how you say it does depend on their age, but knowing you are listening can help them feel secure. Here are some more tips:

Find times when your children are most likely to talk. Riding in the car, at dinner, or at bedtime are all great times to have more in-depth conversations and are also common times for children to feel comfortable opening up.

Be prepared to tell the truth. Gauging how much your child should hear depends on their age and maturity level, so you should decide how much truth your child needs to know. Be honest, but there’s no need to give more details than your child is interested in.

Put news stories in proper context. Explain that some events are isolated, and show them how one event relates to another. This can help them better understand what is going on. Use the story as an opportunity to talk about the importance of cooperation, generosity, and the ability of people to cope when times are trying.

Watch the news with your children. Being present as they view a story can help you address their concerns in real time and can keep them from misunderstanding information that could further fuel their fears. If you are uncomfortable with the content or feel that it is inappropriate for your child’s age, turn it off.

Talk about what you can do to help. After hearing of a tragedy, many children feel better when they can find a way to help the people who were affected. This may help them gain a sense of control and feel more secure.

Make your home a safe place. When the world seems overwhelming, it’s important for children to have a safe place to retreat to. During a crisis, remember that your children may seek the comfort of home and the safe feeling they have when they are there.

While there is no easy answer for why violence happens, helping your child to understand what is happening is a great step in building their ability to cope with a traumatic event. Listening and talking openly and honestly about what is going on builds trust between you and your child and can let them know that they can come to you during times of crisis.

Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee is a statewide non-profit organization that partners with parents, providing education, coaching, and support throughout the journey of parenthood. For more information about our programs, please visit www.pcat.org.