Dealing With Children's Fears And The News

I was recently a guest on Telemundo’s national morning show Un Nuevo Dia and was asked to help their TV audience process the previous day’s terrorist attacks in Brussels with their children.  Here is the script, since I feel that this is relevant information for all families.

Q1: When a terrorist attack occurs, the instinct of the majority of families is to keep the television on at home. If there are children in fear, what is the right thing to do?

A1: Try to reduce the images and information to which the kids are exposed. It is customary for many families to maintain the television on in the house. But this is the way in which many children see images that are not adequate for them.

1. The American Pediatric Association recommends 0 time in front of screens for children under two years of age.

2. They recommend less than two hours of screen time a day for kids/adolescents. This includes smartphones, computers and televisions.

Q2: When children begin to feel certain fears when it is time to travel, now that many of us are on vacation, how can we transmit to them tranquility?

A2: When a child asks about a specific event or asks any other difficult question, always respond to them with another question in order to understand exactly what it is that they are asking. For example, he asks, “Mom, are we safe in our home, I saw the bombs? And we can respond, “My love, that is an important question. What do you think about the safety of our home?” In that moment you wait for the answer and you will have more information beyond what they are feeling. Most of the time we listen to the question of a child, but we hear it from our adult perspective and we explain more than what we need to.  The younger they are, the less information we should give.

Q3: What information should we give then, depending on age?

A3: When you give information you give it in consideration of their age. With the terrorist attacks, each stage receives different information:

1. From 4-7 y.o.,  you explain that a group of people decided to break the rules and hurt a lot of people. In this moment you can take the opportunity to speak with them about how important it is to follow the rules in order to not hurt others.

2. From 8-12 y.o., you can speak more clearly about terrorism, about war, what happens in the world, values, religious lessons that you as a family want to pass on to your children.

3.  For adolescents 12-24, it is an opportunity in order to talk and debate with them about their thoughts and beliefs in this difficult time.

Q4: What is the message for those parents that decide to evade or ignore these questions?

A4: The most important thing is to respond to them with love and affection when they share or explain that they are afraid.  Do not deny their fear by changing the subject, instead soothe their fear by holding, loving, talking about what they are afraid of in an age-appropriate way.  Evading or ignoring the questions creates more anxiety than answering them. When a child has a question/fear in mind that needs answering, they will go out of their way to get said answer.  It is better for your child to get that information from you than from a friend or the news.