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8/4/19blog post

talking to your kids about the Oregon District shooting in Dayton

As the city of Dayton woke up this morning to the news of the Oregon District shooting, many parents may be wondering how to talk to their child about today’s tragedy. Dayton Children’s experts say the most important thing you can do is listen and take your cues from them.

Most parents make the mistake of giving too much information, and kids after a while, are either overwhelmed or tune out. Depending on age, your child may not have any interest or be acutely impacted by the news. The key is to be guided by your child and you can’t make a mistake.

Parents should be truthful, but not go into more detail than the child is interested in or can handle. A young child may accept the news at face value without any connection to their life. However, by the time kids reach the age of 7 or 8, they begin to distinguish between fact and fiction, and what they watch on TV can seem all too real. They may ask, "Could I or someone I know be next?”

Unless your child is younger than 5 years old, you don’t have to stop them from watching the news. You can use what they see there to provoke discussion. Encourage them to talk openly about what scares them. An adult's willingness to listen will send a powerful message.

Most often, kids are going to ask – ‘Am I safe?’ And that can be a tough one for parents to answer.

It is normal for a caregiver to struggle with how to answer these questions. Am I going to share too much and scare my child? Am I not going to say enough and send the wrong message?

Parents are encouraged to use the tips below to engage in conversation today and this week with their kids. 

tips for parents

  1. Know which sources your kids turn to for news and information – TV or online.
  2. Ask your child what they’ve already heard. It’s best that your child hears about it from you, as opposed to another child or in the media but many times that can’t be avoided.
  3. In general, it is best to share the basic information. Be straightforward and direct so that your child knows what’s going on and avoid graphic or unnecessary details.Be aware that repetitive graphic images and sounds may appear in various forms of media and therefore try to limit, if not eliminate, those exposures.
  4. Discuss current events with your kids on a regular basis. It's important to help them think through stories they hear about. Ask questions: What do you think about these events? How do you think these things happen? Such questions also encourage conversation about non-news topics.
  5. Put news stories in proper context. Showing that certain events are isolated or explaining how one event relates to another helps kids make better sense of what they hear.
  6. Watch the news with your kids, if age appropriate, to filter stories together.
  7. Don’t pressure your child to talk. Your well-meaning intentions may be viewed by some kids, particularly teens, as an interrogation. Show interest and concern, but not pressure.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where tragedies like these are becoming more frequent and they certainly take an emotional toll. By listening to our children and engaging in supportive conversations, however, we can help them to develop the resilience skills they need to manage their emotions. If you are concerned about your child and his/her response to this tragedy (or any other), please reach out to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional or counselor.