Violent events, like news of the fatal mass shooting in Plymouth, can be a tough read for anyone, but especially children.
As news circulates online, on social media, and on our TVs and radios, it can be hard for younger ones to understand what’s happening.
Balbina Garza Delgado has been working as a child and adolescent psychotherapist for over a decade.
She says it can be quite “frightening” for kids to digest the news.
She mentions a big danger for children under the age of 10 is not understanding that a horrific event has ended but instead feeling like there is a “sense of a continuous threat”.
It’s important for that age range to not have as much exposure to adult news so putting in place limitations is important.
But that’s easier said than done so here are some of the ways to talk to children and teenagers about violence they might be seeing in the media.
1. Have an open conversation
Offer your time to your children and provide a space for them to be able to talk about what they’ve seen and heard.
“Sometimes parents can be extremely anxious about being honest and sharing information,” she says.
But it can be helpful to encourage them to come and talk to you if there’s anything they don’t understand.
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Make time for a conversation about what’s happened.
2. Think about your language
It’s vital to keep in mind their developmental stage and the phrasing you choose to use with your kids to make sure not to “overwhelm” them in these situations.
For example, for children under 10 you can stick to something simple like, “there was this person who was struggling with their feelings and they needed help but they ended up doing something bad”.
It could also help to include phrasing like “there are a lot of people helping to support those who got hurt because of this person’s actions.”
Teenagers have a deeper understanding of the world so more adult-like language would be appropriate.
2. Let them ask the questions
Balbina says parents and adults can have a habit of “oversharing” details that children might not necessarily want to know.
She says, “it’s important to let the child ask the questions they want answers to”.
This also avoids overwhelming a child with extra information they haven’t even thought about.
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Let children guide the conversation through the questions they want answered.
3. Stick to routine
This is especially important for children of all ages in the local area where the incident has happened as they might feel like something similar can happen to them.
Balbina says it provides a sense of “certainty” and “predictability” that helps a child to know and feel like they’re safe.
It also applies to children outside of the immediate are to also feel like they are safe by keeping to regular routines.
4. It’s not just about the words
Young children and teenagers can sense danger from the body language and facial expressions of adults.
“This is traumatic, not only for the children but for parents to think that this is happening in their country.”
This can raise the sense of stress and anxiety in adults as well as children so it’s important to be conscious of how we as adults also respond to the situation.
Balbina mentions if we act calm around children, it gives off a sense of safety to those who are younger.
Children’s charity Young Minds have a list of resources for parents at https://www.youngminds.org.uk/parent/parents-helpline-and-webchat/
They also have a free helpline working between Monday-Fridat 9.30am-4pm on 0808 802 5544.