What Do You Say to Your Child About Las Vegas?

By Aaron Cooper

Even as the head of a PreK-8th grade school and a educator with almost two decades of experience, I will never become accustomed to having to speak with our families about how to address tragic incidents with their children.  Whether it is the death of someone close to the community, a natural disaster or, most inexplicably, a mass shooting, these events challenge us as parents and educators to help make sense of the world in which we live.

That challenge is heightened by the reality of how quickly information is disseminated today - rumor and fact make their way to our children at warp speed, and many are developmentally unable to separate fact from fiction. Think for a moment about what it might have been like had September 11 occurred in the media environment in which we now live, where photography and videography is ubiquitous and every person can “report” on events in real time.  We have to understand that despite our best efforts as parents to control the flow of information (and misinformation) to our children it is more difficult than ever before. Indeed, even elementary school children can now access various media sources and those sources may leave them frightened, confused and despairing about current events. 

Our school, like many others, provides families with resources from trusted sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Mind Institute that address how best to support your child as they receive information about troubling events. Our school also holds assemblies to address important issues and remind students that they are safe and protected at school, and surrounded by adults who care about them deeply. 

From my years as an educator and as a parent, I can also offer the following tips for speaking with children and young teens about these incidents:

  • Find out what your child knows and start from there. Very young children may not be aware of a tragic event that is happening outside of their immediate community and there’s usually no reason to inform them. However, if your older child asks you about troubling events that are happening in the country or world, a good way to begin the dialog is by finding out what they know, and answering specific questions.
  • Reassure your child that they are safe. If the incident is a natural disaster, talk to your child about how you would prepare for those that are likely to impact your area. If it tragedy is an act of random violence, talk about how rare they are and how the adults that care for them will always keep them safe. 
  • Let them know what, if anything, your family can do to help. Positive actions can often lessen anxiety.  Giving to a drive for families affected by a hurricane or earthquake shows children that we can impact the world around us. 
  • Reach out to your child’s school if you have concerns. Schools have psychologists and other professionals who can help you if your children have questions that you can’t answer. We are here to help. 

As adults, we must never lose sight of the fact that there is much that we can do, no matter what is happening in the world, to keep our children feeling safe and secure. While we can’t always shield them from upsetting news, we can help them cope with it in a way that will increase their resilience.