Talking to kids about media reports of horrible things

cover eyes child

I admit, I cried this morning when I heard about the terror attack in Manchester England last night. I cried for those who died. But I also cried for my own kids.

On the drive to school in the morning I regularly listen to the Bobby Bones radio show. It’s a show full of positivity and it helps us get in a good mood for the day. But this morning they talked about the terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert. I was in the car alone with my 7-year-old. And I decided to turn to a different station. Something in me did not want my daughter to know that things like this happen in the world. And my media parenting research didn’t prepare me for something like this. I’m not sure anything can prepare parents for something like this. There simply isn’t research in the media parenting literature that tells us how and when to talk to kids about terror attacks. We’re largely left on our own. I held it together while in the car with my daughter, but when I got to my office, that’s when the tears came.

After getting a little work done, I decided to look up the latest on the attack. I found an excellent article on CNN that provides what I think is some pretty sound advice about helping kids deal with things like this. Other than that, I don’t have much to offer today. I’m not a therapist. I’m not a child psychologist. I’m not trained to help children deal with fear and grief and terror. But even though I’m not an expert in dealing with this stuff, I did have a parenting experience recently that I think might help.

Last summer we went with our kids on a vacation, and it was the first time flying for our then 6-year-old. You should know this about me—I hate flying. I actually have to take medication to calm me down. It’s an irrational fear, I know, but it’s something I deal with every time I fly. I was sitting next to my daughter on a flight last summer and as we descended into Dallas we flew through some clouds. You know what happens when a plane enters clouds—it bumps around a little bit, and it smooths out again once you come out of the clouds. My daughter did not like this one bit, and I felt her squeeze my hand tight. With every cloud, I could feel her anxiety growing. So, I did what any parent would do in this situation. I forgot about my own fears and focused on helping her with hers. I listened. And I explained the best I could, in the calmest way I could possibly muster, that I was absolutely confident that everything was going to be okay. I told her I didn’t know why clouds made it bumpy, but that I’d been on many, many flights and that there was no reason to be afraid. And a funny thing happened. We both settled down. We held each other’s hand, and we both knew that if the other felt okay, then everything was going to be all right. Kids seem to gain confidence from a parent’s confidence.

Bad things happen. Really bad things. I don’t know why, but I know that they’re usually out of our control. They’re scary. They make us worry about the world in which our children are growing up. And that’s why kids need parents who can hold their hand, listen, and help them feel like everything is going to be all right. Sometimes, that’s all they need. And that’s good, because sometimes that’s all we can do.

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