With the aftermath of the Paris attacks creating daily fodder for the news, Canadians are being presented with frightening imagery every day. And in a media-heavy world, our children face constant exposure to it.
One question many families are now grappling with is how to explain these pictures to our children?
Earlier today, Lynda Steele spoke with Dr. Noah Susswein, a clinical Psychologist at the Vancouver Psychology Centre about how to talk to your kids about Paris.
Handling the topic
Susswein says in many ways, children will have the same reaction to horrific events as adults do. But he says they have less capacity to process them.
“I think they feel as stressed out about it as we do, but of course they have a lot less life experience and intellectual experience to grapple with it.”
He says parents face a difficult challenge, which at the core of it is trying to explain the idea of evil itself: why do bad things happen to good people? And he says there is no easy answer.
But Susswein says that’s no reason to avoid the topic. He says a parent’s job is to be responsive to what kinds of questions their kids might have, depending on their age, development, and also individual personalities.
“A good slogan to have in mind here is to avoid avoidance. It’s really tempting to say something superficially comforting like ‘don’t worry, it could never happen here.’ But in fact that’s not totally true, so it’s impossible to say that with sincerity. So how’s that going to come out, it’s going to come out with a little bit of anxiety, and that’s probably going to have an even more unsettling effect on our kids.”
He says it’s important to be sensitive to your child, and to deal with the issue in a straight way without adding new fears.
Susswein recommends using language like the following:
“I’m so glad we live somewhere where it’s mostly really safe, and that there are tons of people working together to keep it that way, so lets learn more about what people are doing to help those who have been affected, and to keep the rest of us safe.”
That’s the approach taken by this French father, as he tries to help his young son through the horror in a video that’s gone viral.
WATCH: French father talks to his son about the Paris tragedy
Is it affecting your child?
Susswein says it’s important to keep an eye on you child to see how the issue might be affecting them. He says some kids might withdraw and become less communicative, while others might react with anger or aggression.
“If you see a behavior change in your kids that you think is related to the news events that they’ve been exposed to, I think it’s a good thing to be curious about it and to open a door to a conversation about that topic without demanding they walk through it.”
But he says how each family opens that door and handles what is on the other side will be different, and depend on how individual parents and kids talk with one another.
Should kids even be watching the news?
Susswein says in a world like ours, some exposure is inevitable. He says that’s even more the case now, with internet access and 24-hour news, and that parents probably need to supervise their kids more than in the past.
He says it’s good for parents to be concerned, but be sensitive to the fact their kids are media consumers too.
“It’s important not to react in an accidentally punitive way even if we catch our kids seeking out these kinds of images even if we like to protect them.”
Susswein adds that it’s natural for kids to be curious about extreme events.But if they express too much of an interest, he suggests parents be honest with their kids and tell them how watching too much might only make them more anxious.