How to Support Your Child in Scary Times
**This blog post was updated on October 10, 2023.**
The world can be a scary and violent place, and it can be hard to make sense of the horrible things that happen in it. But perhaps even more difficult is trying to explain — or even comfort — kids during scary and uncertain times.
We reached out to Tessa Stuckey, licensed professional counselor, for ways to support children in the wake of senseless violence. School is an essential part of a child’s life, and whether or not a young person will ever experience a shooting first-hand doesn’t matter — these tragedies affect all kids on a very deep level. Coping skills for children is a necessary tool to develop in order for them to get through difficult times. It’s important for families to talk to, listen to, and make sure their kids are processing what’s going on in the world around them.
To start, how should you frame these conversations?
First and foremost, every family has different needs or circumstances to take into consideration, as well as each individual child. Depending on your child’s age and situation, you're going to have a different discussion when talking about what happened. It’s important as well for parents to think of their goals for starting a conversation. Is it to provide comfort in anxious kiddos? Is it to make sure they understand what happened rather than hearing rumors? Is it to open up the opportunity for questions? There’s no one right answer, and all of these are great reasons to have this talk.
What are some ways to discuss the tragic events that happen in a way kids can understand?
Admit that you are upset by recent events yourself and that you don't always know how to talk about these tough topics. Stress that you always want your child to feel safe and comfortable to discuss these kinds of things. Start off by asking your child what they've heard already and let them help guide the conversation, letting yourself chime in to correct any misconceptions or rumors. Or, you can start off by describing an age-appropriate version of "Something really horrible happened this week. People died and many families will have to mourn forever. I don't want you to be scared or unsafe so I want you to ask me any question you might have about what happened." Focus on your goals for the discussion and make sure those are the focus points.
How can you comfort and support your child when they're scared of being hurt at school?
Coping skills for children are very important, as they will help them to deal with stress and pressure. You want to always reassure that your child is safe at home as well as at the school that they go to. Their school takes safety measures seriously and are doing everything they can to prevent something so tragic. Find some proof on the school’s website or handbook and share that with your child. For example, you could say, "Do you know those doors that are locked whenever I come to pick you up and I have to be buzzed in? That's there to prevent this from happening at your school." Talk about the caring hearts of the teachers, principals, counselors, and other staff. Because of this tragedy, schools across the nation are undoubtedly going to increase their security and safety. Maybe they'll even spend extra time this summer getting ready for a super-safe school year in the fall.
How can you build resiliency with your family in these stressful and scary times?
Just like we remember 9/11, the shooting at Columbine High, or even the death of Princess Diana, horrible things occur and they become part of our children's story. But we just want to be sure we are experiencing them secondarily rather than directly, if we’re not closely connected to the events.
Keeping an open dialogue and availability for questions is also important. Helping your kids find strength when they’re feeling anxious (learning how to cope properly by using thought redirection or relaxing actions, for example) will help them process what has happened as well as build emotional strength to get through tough times ahead. If they don't take the time — even the short amount kids typically need — to process correctly, they will not build the resilience needed for stressful times.
Try to avoid video games, YouTube, or social media as those create distractions and don’t facilitate true processing. (We know, that’s easier said than done). Another reason to stay away from social media? Clips from the tragedy may be shared and go viral — think body cam footage and surveillance photos. This kind of online content could trigger kids and further traumatize them. It could also lead to desensitization of events like these.
Instead, try and spend some quality time as a family. Oftentimes, just spending time together with loved ones can bring comfort and healing in uncertainty.
And lastly, it's okay to turn off the news. Our generation didn’t grow up with a 24/7/365 news cycle, and your kids certainly don't need to hear the details about events like these all the time. This will help them accept what has happened, process it, and move forward with the right emotional strength their little minds and hearts can handle.
Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.