Parents wondering how to talk to their children about tragedies such as natural disasters or attacks have a new resource to help them, published online in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
“There have been a lot of changes in how we receive news and the types of news we receive, which has impacted the information that kids are exposed to,” said Dr. Megan Moreno, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital in Washington, who wrote the one-page primer intended for parents and other grown-ups.
The content of the page, accessible for free, is based on recommendations given by HealthyChildren.org, a website run by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Families used to sit together to watch the evening news, which was generated by professional journalists and filtered carefully,” Moreno told Reuters Health by phone. “Now we receive news on our phones, and there are no filters.”
News is always available and bombarding us, even on channels we may not expect, such as social media, where children spend their time, she added.
“You may log onto Facebook to look at cute cats or funny videos and then see a tragic news story,” she said. “This has impacted how adults interact with news, and it’s important to step back and think about kids as well.”
The patient resource explains that adults can help their children by being a calm presence, reassuring them about safety, maintaining a routine and spending extra time together. It’s fine for children to see adults be sad or cry and for families to express their feelings together, though intense emotions may be tougher for children to handle. Tragedies may also present a good time for families to discuss emergency plans and ways they could help survivors and their families.
“It’s always important to talk to kids when things are upsetting them, even if there isn’t a crisis event or big story in the news at the moment,” said Dr. David Schonfeld of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Schonfeld, who wasn’t involved with the patient page, researches the best ways to support grieving children.
“In the aftermath of a major event, people are focused on the event itself and less on how to talk to kids,” he told Reuters Health by phone. “You have more energy and capacity to consider how you should approach the discussions when you’re not struggling with the content yourself.”