For the media

Talking with kids about troubling current events

By The Health News Team | October 20, 2023
Talking with kids about school violence

With a seemingly endless news cycle featuring war, school shootings, extreme weather disasters and other troubling events, children are bound to experience fear, sadness and confusion. Parents and educators sometimes struggle with knowing just what to say, how much to share, and how they can comfort children during these tragic times.

According to Dr. Kelsey Bradshaw, a clinical child psychologist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, the exposure to a bombardment of negative news stories, discussions and social media posts can be overwhelming. This can lead to mental health conditions and unhealthy coping behaviors that can affect a young person’s quality of life, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Intense fear

  • Isolation

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities

  • Eating or sleeping more or less than before

  • Poor concentration or performance in school

  • Alcohol and drug use

However, the adults in their lives — at home, at school and in the community — can play a critical role in helping children return to normal routines, regain a sense of security, and cope with the overwhelming emotions they may be feeling.

“The children of today are growing up in a much different world, one that includes a rise in school shootings, war and environmental disasters, and that allows for 24-hour immediate access to discussions and details about each event,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “Part of our role as adults is to be available to listen to their concerns, validate the emotions that come up, and help them to work through those emotions in a healthy way.”

10 tips for parents when addressing troubling events

The National Association of School Psychologists, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychological Association encourage parents to make the time to talk to children about such tragedies and present information in a direct manner appropriate for their age. They offer the following recommendations for parents and adults looking for ways to start a conversation about challenging topics:


Filter the details

Filter graphic details of the violence, but allow children to discuss whatever they’d like, as they may need help processing images and information they’ve already heard or seen.


Steer clear of media

Limit exposure to media — on TV, online and in print — and view or read news reports with teens so that you can discuss what they are learning and how it makes them feel.


Keep yourself informed

Stay up to date on recent reports so that you can be prepared for the information children might be exposed to and need to discuss.


Be your child's safe space

Let children know that they are safe. Acknowledge that bad things do happen — sometimes at school or in their community — but assure them their teachers, school administrators, the police, firefighters, government representatives, humanitarian workers and others work to ensure their safety and help those in need.


Create a calm home

Help to create a safe haven at home, one in which they can find comfort and solitude as needed. It is also helpful to review safety procedures for your home, at school and out in the community, and point out the “helpers” in each environment they could turn to in an emergency.


Find distracting activities

If they are reluctant to talk, offer alternative ways — art, writing, music, physical activity — that might help them work through their troubling emotions and fears.


Keep things as normal as possible

Maintain your normal routine but allow children to take breaks as needed if they seem distracted or overwhelmed.


Get their input

Help them be a part of the solution by providing age-appropriate opportunities, such as making art or writing notes of appreciation for the helpers in the world, volunteering, raising funds to donate, and participating in peaceful demonstrations or vigils.


Be easy on yourself

Model a healthy response to a tragedy — continue to do things you normally do, monitor your health and wellness, and limit your own exposure to media.


Monitor their behavior

Continue to listen and watch carefully for signs of distress. Changes in a child’s sleep, behavior, emotional regulation, appetite and overall health can be signs of anxiety or stress.

The most important tip is to be open and prepared to talk at any time, Dr. Bradshaw says. Kids don’t always want to sit down for a formal conversation but may hint they’d like to discuss something important during car rides, while preparing dinner or just before bedtime. Let them know you are listening and that all of their feelings are legitimate, even if they differ from your own.

Talk with your child’s doctor if you think your child may need professional help coping with a recent tragedy. Programs such as Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital’s adolescent mental health services specialize in treating children and teens experiencing depression, anxiety, substance use and other disorders.

Learn more about parenting; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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