Fort Worth, Texas,
10:15 AM

Explaining the Dallas Tragedy to Children

What to do if your child asks about the attack on police officers

Once again, news of senseless violence leaves parents grasping for answers. Unfortunately, this time it has happened in our community during what should have been a peaceful protest.

The frightening footage from downtown Dallas Thursday night is difficult to watch for even the most hardened adult. So how do you explain what has happened to your child?

Joy Crabtree, Psy.D, a licensed psychologist for Cook Children’s Behavioral Health in Southlake, said parents of young children should encourage discussion, but only if they have learned about the incident elsewhere. If they haven’t heard about it, don’t share information with them. If they have, answer their questions and most importantly, reassure them.

Crabtree said that in cases such as the Dallas shootings, parents need to think through whether their child can handle any news about it at all. Depending on their age and maturity level, it might be best to shield children from the news entirely, if at all possible.

“This is difficult for all of us to grasp. For children, the Dallas shootings may spur questions about race, protests, etc. These topics can be difficult to talk about," Crabtree said. "The overriding messages we need to be sending to our children right now is reassurance, love and peace.”

Crabtree said this topic may be especially difficult to talk about because of how we talk to children about police men and women or other people of uniform. We teach them to respect law enforcement because they protect us. It may be difficult to explain how something like this could happen.

It may also stir emotions for children of law enforcement officers. This may be the first time they have thought of their parent as a ‘target’ for violence. Crabtree says the key here, again, is reassurance.

For older children, such as middle school and high school, Crabtree encourages parents to again determine if their child is mature enough to handle the information. If parents feel they can handle it, use the DVR or TiVo as your friend during the news. Watch it with your child and pause the TV to answer questions. Gauge your child’s emotions and turn the TV off if your child becomes too emotional or the news is too intense.

“Parents have to stay calm and cannot be glued to the TV,” Crabtree said. “It's easy to get lost in the 24-hour news cycle. If you have an elementary-aged child, and they haven’t learned the news, there’s certainly no reason to sit down with them and show them the story. There’s no need to cause fear in your children. By the time children are 7 or 8 years old, they can distinguish fact from fiction and will understand the consequences of what they are watching. Answer their questions, but only their questions. There’s no need to add more information that may scare them even more.”

Children may not understand the distance of the events on TV, make sure to calm their fears and let them know they are safe. 

“This news can be very scary to many children,” said Crabtree. “Parents need to realize this can really raise anxiety levels. I can’t stress enough the importance of just being there for your child right now to support them.”

Teens may have more questions and concerns because they can find information on the internet and discuss it with their friends. They may wonder why something like this happens. Share with your child your own fears and anxieties about the events. Let them know it’s OK to feel scared or frustrated, but it cannot overtake them. Crabtree said take this opportunity to talk about issues that normally may not be brought up and find out what your child thinks about the police, violence and race relations.

"These are complicated times we live in and even as adults we are having a hard time grasping all the violence in today's world," Crabtree said. "We may not know all the answers. But the most important thing is to simply listen and offer support and love to your child."

Listen to your teen, or older child, regarding their fears and concerns. How an adult manages their own feelings can also provide a positive example for them.

Also, share with them ways that they may help by writing a letter to police, making a monetary donation or giving blood. Sometimes when tragedy happens it helps them to work through their anxiety by becoming active and helping others.

Crabtree advises parents to watch to see if their children restrict activity, for instance if they don’t want to go somewhere because it is too far away from home, or simply because they are afraid. Also, notice if your child becomes withdrawn or more clingy than usual, or reverts to wanting to sleep in your bed.

“It is common for children to have a general fear, but if you see an overwhelming fear, it’s important to talk to their pediatrician,” Crabtree said. “If it continues to be a concern, then it may be time to get professional help.”

About the source

Joy Crabtree, Psy.D. is located at 2727 E. Southlake Blvd. Southlake, TX 76092. To make an appointment with her, call 682-885-6000

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