The violent headlines of the past few weeks have come one after another…and with kids in the house, it adds an additional level of anxiety of parents. Thanks to Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever, for these tips on how parents can help kids process scary news.  – Amy

Author Mary Jo Rapini


With the recent happenings in Cleveland, Boston, Texas, I am reminded of our “little ones.” If you are a parent, your child monitors their reaction by watching yours. Here are a few suggestions to help you help your child.

1.    Parents are a barometer for their children, and children are skilled with reading their parent’s emotions. So, before you talk to your children, make sure you know how you feel about what happened, and if you are anxious or not ready to help your child feel secure, delay talking with them about it

2.    Don’t mention the trauma part to your children and don’t assume what they are afraid of. Rather, ask them specifically so you won’t introduce another possible fear. If they mention they are afraid that something bad may happen to them, validate that by saying it’s natural to feel that way, but also tell them you are going to do everything you can to keep them safe.

3.    Limit the news in your home regarding the tragedies. Children don’t understand the replays and they may be at the level of thinking each time they view the incident that it is happening again. The visual parts as well as the audio accounts of the recent tragedies once seen and heard may create anxiety, nightmares, and depression in children.

4.    As much as possible, stay on your routine at home. This will give your child stability and reduce anxiety.

5.    As a family, draw cards, send letters, and/or bake cookies for the families or people in the community where the tragedies occurred, or for someone needing them in your own community. This helps your child see that there are more good people than bad.

6.    This is an excellent time to set up an emergency plan in your own home. Go through what you each will do if there is an emergency. This empowers children and helps them feel more in control. Remind them of a time something happened and what they did to help. Also remind them of how proud you were of them.

7.    Take extra time at night to read stories, watch movies, or say prayers. This helps kids feel safer and it is also a time when questions come up that parents can use to help understand how their child is processing the tragedies.

8.    This is a good time to bring your spiritual beliefs to the forefront. Things such as having a mass said, lighting a candle, or planting a tree for the people who lost their lives is important. It helps your child see that no matter what happens people do care and they do remember. Spirituality is also important because it gives us strength beyond our human capacity.

9.    Listen to your children.  Children’s brains work differently than adults, and by careful listening you can better ascertain where your child is having a difficult time with the recent events.

10.    Grieving with your child will help them heal. Children grieve much differently than adults. Their time frame isn’t the same as ours. They may be playing and jumping around one minute, and sitting alone by a tree the next. Grieving in children isn’t normal for adults to witness and we want to cheer them up. This is a time to acknowledge when they are sad and then brainstorm with them what they can do (with your help) to feel better. Always identify with trying to do something good with your child for others.

Parents should always answer questions and tell their children the truth. However, wait for the question and answer in simple ways that are age appropriate for your child. Grief takes time and if you are worried your child is not working through their grief, take them to their pediatrician and work with someone they suggest for emotional support. When bad things happen the greatest source of encouragement comes from mom and dad and family.

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever.   Join Mary Jo on Twitter or talk to her on her Facebook fan page.


Start Talking features succinct yet lively answers, sample conversations, and real life stories to help open the door to better mother/daughter communication. Rapini and Sherman have compiled more than 113 questions girls (and their moms) routinely ask – or should be asking – about health, sex, body image, and dating.