Written by Dr. Anne Colantuoni
When bad things happen, children notice.
If a child cries on a Monday morning at drop-off, all the little faces and eyes in the room take note. At lunchtime, if there is a big spill, there is a moment of quiet, and then a desire to help.
We have been struck in the last two weeks with terrible tragedies. One very close and the other far away, but we are all noticing and so are our children in some way.
I want to share with you a few ideas to keep in mind when bad things happen and how we should approach talking about and sharing the news with our young children.
1) Limit screen time and visual exposure.
When children see an event multiple times on a screen or in print, it is as if it is happening in real time, over and over again. Also with very young children, the boundary between fantasy and reality is fluid. A picture can trigger and flood a child’s imagination, making it hard for them to distinguish between what is real and/or fantasy.
2) Use language that is honest and not frightening.
Be aware of your tone and emotional state, taking time to prepare yourself when you have to share the news. Containing your own anxiety is key. Use language that is developmentally appropriate and stay close to the facts. You don’t have to share every detail! Too much information can be very disorganizing to a child. Answer questions as honestly as you can, placing emphasis on the child’s safety. Reassure them that their immediate world is safe.
3) Be mindful that regression may occur after a traumatic event.
Sleeping, eating, toileting issues may revisit your household. Offer reassurance and be open to talking through things a few times. These are teachable moments during which time our children truly learn that any question may be asked and that their loving adults will be reservoirs of honesty.
Anne Colantuoni, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Consulting Psychologist, Twin Parks Montessori Schools