Talking to children following tragedy

Through a child's eyes
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Just in the past year, terror and tragedy have unfolded before our eyes, and many young children are exposed to it.

"They really need to be protected, and we choose wisely in what we are going to expose our children to," said Dr. Jessica Pipkin, a child psychologist with Mid-South Health Systems.

Pipkin said younger children have a hard time discerning between fact and fiction. She said they do not have the concepts to understand traumatic events like terrorism and brutal mass killings.

"It can really throw off their worlds," she said. "You can see a big spike in anxiety with kids that are exposed to that content that they're just not ready for."

Caleigh Romine, a Jonesboro mother to several young children, said she lets her children see what she thinks they can handle viewing.

"We would let them see, you know, something that is in their age range and to let them know bad things do happen," Romine said.

Pipkin said when it comes to distant tragedies like Paris and Orlando, where kids have no direct connection, it is safer to keep them from it.

She said children as old as 6 are too young to understand big world concepts.

"Children will let us know when they're ready," Pipkin said. "They start asking questions and then it is our job to step up to the plate at that point."

She said your answers should be limited in scope and heavy on reassurance.

"In the 8- and 9-year-old range you don't share complete big picture. You might tell them the basics, and then you go straight into how they're safe," Pipkin said.

According to Pipkin, it is in their teens when children are ready for the broader picture.

Clinical Psychologist Kristin Addison-Brown said her 5-year-old son Isaac already asks those questions.

"He sees the guys in the black masks and says, "That's a bad guy," Addison-Brown said.

In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris last year, we were moved by a father and son attending a candlelight vigil.

The little boy asked several questions about bad guys and if they were going to get him too.

Pipkin said the father's reaction was ideal.

"What he did was focusing on we're safe, we're okay. You know, as his child asked some very good questions and let him know he's worried about the bad guys, dad was helping focus on something more positive," Pipkin said.

The dad focused on the flowers and candles and how he would keep his son safe from the bad guys.

"There are mean people, they're everywhere, but we have flowers, and we have candles, and we have these beautiful things that still protect us as humans," Addison-Brown said.

Pipkin said she can't begin to assume why parents want their children exposed to these things; she said because once it is out there, parents will have to deal with the ramifications.

Instead, she said parents and their kids should participate in positive events following such tragedies.

"They focus on how we can love our neighbors and show acceptance to people we care about," Pipkin said. "Having a child involved in that kind of idea is very okay."

If children are not exposed to tragedies at home, they will learn about them at school from other kids.

Either way, Pipkin said parents should be prepared to tackle tough questions.

She suggests the following articles to help answer children's questions following a tragedy: Ideas on Ages and Appropriateness of Content for Children and Telling Kids About Tragedy.

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