Living with Children: Give kids only information they need
A radio talk-show host recently called to ask how parents should explain school shootings to their kids.
My answer: It depends. I prefer, for the most part, for parents to say nothing unless their children ask questions. And then, when a child asks, for parents to say as little as possible.
My rule of thumb has always been to give children only the information they need, when they absolutely need it.
An aside: The selectivity of this question says more about the media's tendency to create drama than any real need on the part of children. For example, when 10 children are killed in a school-bus accident somewhere, no one in the media calls to ask me how parents should explain school-bus accidents.
To “explain” school shootings to a child who has not asked questions about them accomplishes nothing of value and is likely to cause a sharp spike in anxiety. It is a given that the parent in question is explaining because he or she is anxious, and it is also a given that anxious parents precipitate anxiety in children.
The question, then, becomes: What should a parent say about school shootings if a child has heard and expresses worry about them? Under those circumstances, the response should be reassuring (“Your school is safe”) and brief, because lots of words can confuse a child and lead, again, to anxiety.
Something along these lines, perhaps: “There are people in the world who do bad things. Sometimes, these people are bad and, sometimes, they're just confused. This is a bad thing that's happened. No one understands these things very well. I certainly don't.”
“What if a child asks what he should do if a shooting occurs at his school?”
Common sense dictates that the parent should say, “You should follow instructions from your teacher. Do what your teacher tells you to do.”
“What about kidnappings? Shouldn't parents warn their children about the possibility of a kidnapping?”
That's a special category, because there are things children can do to prevent being kidnapped. My mom warned me of kidnappers. She told me to never get in cars with, allow myself to be led by, or accept candy from strangers.
That warning saved my life when I was 5 years old and a man tried to lure me into his car with the promise of a soda if I would direct him to a certain store. I immediately turned and ran, and the man sped off.
My mother — single at the time — said she was proud of me for following her instructions. She went around the neighborhood telling the other parents what had happened and also told the police.
I remember a policeman coming to our house and asking me for a description of the man and his car. I'm sure there was increased vigilance in the neighborhood for the next few weeks, but all the kids were out playing the next day. I'm sure it worried my mother greatly, but she never let on. Thanks, Ma.
Family psychologist John Rosemond's website is www.rosemond.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Hurricanes owner rips Rutherford, Penguins
- Rossi: Wild Wednesday proves Steelers rule
- Starkey: Rutherford hits jackpot with Kessel
- New Kensington residents rally in support of 82-year-old robbery victim
- Penguins notebook: Rutherford proves savvy in deal
- Indiana Twp. boy gets long-awaited liver transplant
- Writings attributed to jailed Plum teacher dubbed evocative of stalker
- Pitt offensive tackle Jones-Smith to miss season
- Beaver County woman finds man crouching in her bathroom, stabs him with sword
- Penguins get their man in making trade with Toronto for Kessel
- 2B Walker, Pirates smash through Tigers pitching in road victory