How should parents talk to their kids about national tragedies?

Oct 3, 2017

In the wake of Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, parents are left with the difficult decision of how to talk to their children about national tragedies. Some medical professionals in Syracuse recommend parents be honest but also reassuring with kids.

Dr. Wendy Gordon directs a juvenile trauma program at SUNY Upstate Medical University. She said when horrific events like mass shootings occur, the first thing parents with younger kids can do is make sure the television and radio are not constantly on the news.

“The younger children who could not really understand what was going on, thought that this event was continuing to happen," Gordon said. "They didn’t understand it was a discreet event. It also puts all the focus on a horrific event without the opportunity to discuss.”

Gordon said depending on the age, it can be a very short, straightforward discussion. Yes, bad things happen in the world.

“And the message is that overall, the world is a relatively safe place, that children are always under the care of their parents, that parents do everything they can to keep their children safe," Gordon said. "We don't know why this man in the current situation decided to act as he did. The police were called. They stopped it as soon as they could. Lots of people were not hurt. Some of the people who were hurt are in the hospital and they will get better."

And parents should give kids a chance to ask questions.

“With younger children the questions always surround them," Gordon said. "Is this going to happen to me? Is this going to happen to you mommy or daddy?"

Gordon said parents need to manage their own anxieties. Adults should be careful of conversations they have with their peers that could sound frightening if children are listening.