By Chris Maricle, Certified Parent Educator
The world can be a scary place. Today’s children are exposed to scary news stories about natural disasters and global conflicts on TV and computer screens. As a parent or grandparent, you may be wondering how to respond. Some people try to ignore these events in hopes that their child may not be aware of them, and others explain everything in a way that traumatizes children. Obviously, there are better ways. Here are some suggestions.
Limit graphic images.
News channels often replay the same event over and over, but children may not realize that they’re watching replays, so they may conclude that tornadoes are happening in every town every day. Turn off the TV if a tragic event is shown repeatedly – and be sure your child doesn’t have his own TV or computer screen in his room! As a parent or grandparent, you need to be aware of what your child is seeing.
Explain what happened if your child asks. Use age-appropriate language without giving so much information that the child becomes more fearful. Changing the subject, ignoring the request, or saying, “You don’t need to know about that” can cause children to become more anxious.
Take children’s fears seriously.
“I can see that you’re worried about this. Let’s talk about it” is a better response than saying, “You shouldn’t be scared. Shake it off!” Encourage your child to talk to you about what she is thinking. Ask open-ended questions about the event she saw. What did she see? Ask how she felt when she saw that. Reassure your child that you are there for her, and that you will do everything you can to keep her safe.
Share prayer and Scripture messages that give comfort.
You can say, “When people in the Bible were upset or scared, they wrote about how God loves and cares for us. Let’s ask God to help you remember that He loves you and will care for you. And I will always love and care for you too.”
Here are some sample Scripture passages:
Psalm 23:1-3, Psalm 28:7, Romans 8:35-39, Isaiah 43:5a, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Sing “Jesus Loves Me” together and thank God for sending Jesus to be our friend and teacher.
Encourage comfort items.
It’s fine if your child wants to hug his favorite stuffed animal, suck his pacifier, or be rocked by you. Children who are comforted grow up to deal more effectively with their struggles than those whose parents make fun of those items or make them “off limits.”
Physical activity often helps overcome fears. Kids often play through their worries or fears as a way to cope. If your child is re-enacting the news, pretending to be a firefighter running into a burning building or using his toys to rescue people from a hurricane, encourage it. Some kids might like to draw pictures that depict helping people who have been hurt.
Be part of the solution.
In response to an event, ask your child if she would like to help. You may not be able to take her to the scene of the incident, but look for ways your family can contribute to a cause that helps others: donate money, pack an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, make get-well cards, take cookies to a neighbor, collect groceries to bring to church for Restore Hope, etc.