We live in a world where tragedies seem to occur left and right, both natural and “man-made”—typhoons, earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks, school shootings, bombings… the list of “bad news” sometimes seems to never end.
As adults, we often find ourselves questioning why such things happen. We might feel a mixture of emotions, ranging from sadness to confusion to outrage, especially if the events in question happen close to home.
If senseless tragedies make us feel confused or even lost and angry, can you imagine how our children might feel about them? How do we explain such things to them? How do we help them make sense of the “bad news” they might hear or see?
Our experts Ichel Santos-Alignay, a registered psychologist (RP), registered guidance counselor (RGC), co-author of Growing Up Wired: Raising Kids in the Digital Age and mom of two; and Anne Jayme Roblas, a licensed teacher who majored in Values Education and mom of one, share a few tips to help us out:
1. Process what they see. If your kids happen to see news about tragic events, you have to “process what they see,” says Santos-Alignay. Instead of reacting negatively, use the situation as a “media trigger” that will be a springboard for discussion. This will help our children be open with us whenever they hear or see something that might unleash different emotions in them.
2. Ask them questions. Asking questions is a crucial part of the processing of “bad news” with our kids. “Ask them what they see,” Santos-Alignay expounds. “How do they make sense out of it? How do they understand? And how do they think it affects them?”
3. Go one step further: Ask them to think and reflect about what they see. Santos-Alignay emphasizes, “Never forget to ask them to reflect about what they see.” Roblas adds, “What I suggest is appeal first to their senses. Then ask them what they feel, especially if the kids can already communicate. Start with what they perceive is happening because we don’t want to open doors that will make them confused or shocked.”
4. Keep it simple. We must also be careful with our choice of words. “Use simple words,” Roblas advises. “I learned this from an ‘Emotional First Aid’ workshop held by Dr. Leo dela Cruz, director of St. John of the Cross Center for Psychological Intervention and Traumatic Stress Management.
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“Dr. dela Cruz said bad news can traumatize even the person who just listens to a story or witnesses a tragedy. So after starting with what a child sees, hears and feels, you should use the child’s words to explain what happened, and use simple words that will help them visualize what happened.”
5. Share suggestions about how we can help. Tragic events and “bad news” can become ways for us to teach our children empathy and foster compassion. “We can tell the child how we can help,” Roblas says. “For example, we can tell them we need to pray, and be compassionate and caring to people around us. We can also tell them that we should always repay hate with love.”
While we cannot totally protect our children from the natural and man-made tragedies that abound around us, we can and should do what we can to help them deal with such events.
In the words of Santos-Alignay, “Kids cannot be shielded from the media and bad news. We can be there to process things and assure them of our presence by being the kind of parents they can turn to, especially if they are afraid or confused about something.”
Do you have other suggestions and tips on how to talk to your kids about bad news? Feel free to share them with us in the comments.