Having hard conversations with children

Q: How do I talk to my children about shootings and all the other violent acts that have been in the news lately?

A: After every major act of violence that dominates the news, families struggle with what to say to children to help them cope with the information.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents, teachers, childcare providers, and others who work closely with children to present information in a way that children can understand, adapt to, and interact with.

Regardless of the age or stage of development of children, parents can start by asking what they’ve already heard. Most children will have heard, no matter how old they are. After asking them what they heard, share basic information with them, ask them what questions they have, and what they think about the situation. Remember that children can have very different concerns and concerns than adults, so find out what is bothering them before reassuring them.

Older children, teens, and young adults may ask more questions and may request additional information and benefit more from it. But regardless of the child’s age, it’s best to keep the dialogue clear and direct.

In general, it is best to share basic information with children, not graphic details. Keep young children away from repetitive or graphic images.

If older kids start watching the news, consider watching it together, recorded rather than live. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its content before sitting down with them to view it. Then, while watching it, you can pause and have a discussion.

Many children can access the news and graphics from their smartphones via social media and the Internet. You need to be aware of what’s out there and take steps ahead of time to talk to kids about what they might see or hear.

It’s also important to make sure you’re not too vague. Simply saying, “Something happened in a remote town and some people were injured,” doesn’t tell children enough about what happened or whether they should be concerned about it happening to them or their family.

Children may not understand why this is so different from how people get hurt every day and why so much is said about it. The underlying message that a parent should convey is, “It’s okay if these things are bothering you. We are here to support each other. “

Parents who have a child with developmental delay or disability should tailor their responses to their child’s level of development or capabilities, rather than their physical age. For example, if you have a teenage child whose level of intellectual functioning is comparable to that of a 7-year-old, tailor your response to his or her developmental level. Start by giving less information. Provide details or information in the most appropriate and clear way that you can.

What is helpful to a child on the autism spectrum may be different. For example, the child may find less comfort in cuddling than some other children. Parents should try something else that will calm and comfort their child on other occasions.

Parents can see signs that children are having difficulty adjusting. Some things to look for are:

• Sleep problems: Watch for problems falling or staying asleep, nightmares or other sleep disturbances.

• Physical complaints: Children may complain of fatigue, headache or stomach ache, or simply not feel well.

• Difficulty concentrating: It may be more difficult for children to focus in school or to finish their homework if they are angry about a tragedy that has occurred.

Behavioral changes: Watch for signs of regressive behavior, including immature behavior or becoming less patient and more demanding. A child who once separated easily from her parents can become clingy.

• Emotional Problems: Children may experience excessive grief, depression, anxiety or fear.

If you’re concerned about how your kids are doing, talk to your pediatrician.

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