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Many parents find themselves faced with a nearly inevitable dilemma as their child grows up: how do you tell them about scary news without harming them in the long run? While young minds might not be able to grasp the gravity of terrible events, there are occasions where you may find it necessary to tell them something scary, such as the large amount of news coverage that surrounded the massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012.
When incidents like this happen, the child is often exposed to it by television and the media, and sometimes talking about is unavoidable, as young minds can be quite curious. However, according to Dr. Paul Coleman, author of How To Say It to Your Child When Bad Things Happen, there are a few tips and rules for dealing with the conversation in a way that will ease their curious questions and still make them feel safe.
Wait until a certain age. At least seven years old, advises Dr. Coleman. He suggests that it’s best to wait until the child brings up the subject. Coleman says “They might hear about it in school or on TV, and then you have to deal with it”. Younger children may not understand the seriousness of what you’re telling them, and they may simply be frightened, especially if you are.
Keep it black and white. “Younger kids need to be assured that this isn’t happening to them and this won’t happen to them”, says Coleman. Although no one can ever be certain that nothing bad will happen in the future, it’s important for parents to focus on the safety aspect, especially for younger children.
Ask them questions. Small children understand the world differently than adults do. Gain your child’s perspective on the situation by asking them questions. “They might be afraid — or just curious. You have to ascertain that by asking things like ‘What did you hear? What do you think?’” states Coleman. “If they are scared, ask what they’re afraid of – don’t assume you know. They could be using twisted logic, like they see a building collapse on TV and think it’s Mommy’s office building. Correct any misconceptions, and then offer assurance.” Engaging them in a conversation about the topic is the best way to find out what they’re thinking about it.
Never label feelings as wrong. Although this would normally be a common sense statement, it’s vitally important that you validate their feelings, whatever they may be. Little kids can get scared easily, and reassuring them that it’s OK to feel that way can go a long way into easing that emotion.
Use it as a teaching moment. Discussing bad things can open up an opportunity for parents to display to children the importance of helping others and provide a compassionate model for their little ones. Try to use this opportunity to introduce the idea of donating to a good cause, or bring it closer to home with a more personal statement. “You can say, ‘It makes me think of Mrs. Smith in a wheelchair down the road – maybe we should make her a pot roast,’” says Dr. Coleman.
By exercising a few precautions, you can safely tell your child about potentially frightening news.
Rosa takes great pleasure in keeping readers informed and hopes that they make responsible decisions about their future. She’s goal is to make readers aware of the wide traditional and non-traditional, like life insurance with no medical exam, options.