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Talking to kids about scary news

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When you combine heart-wrenching images of the conflict in the Middle East or our more recent string of mass shootings with the overwhelming channels of information available, it’s not surprising that kids may come across this stuff and start asking you questions. News that you and I can handle can seem incredibly scary to a child, and having a fallback script can be a good idea. We asked Daniel Daly, Ph.D., director of the Boys Town Youth Care Center in Omaha, Nebraska, for advice on talking to kids about scary news.

  1. Let them know they’re safe. This is the number one thing they need to feel certain of, as kids will often worry whether the same scary news they’re hearing or seeing will happen to them.
  2. It’s not always easy but try to avoid sounding alarmed or frightened when talking about scary news events. Kids are sponges, and they look to you as their guide, so if you seem freaked out, chances are they will be, too.
  3. Answer questions directly and try not to give more information than necessary. Extraneous details may confuse or frighten kids further, so keep your answers simple and short.
  4.  If your child seems overly concerned or is having problems dismissing the event, help them consider ways they can help. Perhaps they can write thank you letters to law enforcement officers, draw get well cards for those hurt or sick, or simply pray, if that feels right to you. Even if their letters or drawings are never actually sent, it may help your child feel like they’ve done something good to offset the bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
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