Talking to Children: Scary News
A high profile case in your community can leave parents feeling panicked and helpless. It is important to remember that children respond to your tone and your unspoken messages. Instead of having your children worry about the unknown of what is being unsaid, this is a good time to reinforce safety rules and see if there are any new questions that this recent case may bring up for them. Let your children know that you are there to listen and help them solve problems. The ultimate goal is for children to get proactive and reassuring messages from their caregivers with questions instead of seeking out incomplete answers from kids on the playground.
Don’t assume that your child has or has not been a target of this particular offender. Explain that sometimes people break the rules about keeping kids safe and that other grown-ups are going to work hard to make things better for the people that were hurt. Graphic details are NOT helpful for children. Scared kids are not smarter kids.
You can remind your children that most people want kids to grow up healthy and happy, but that there are people out there who do break body safety rules. Sadly, people who break safety rules are usually people we know and often are people that we like.
This is a good time to remind your child that questions about body safety are welcome at any time. If someone does break a body safety rule they have the right to say no and ask for help right away. Even if a child doesn’t say no, because they are scared or confused, it still isn’t the child’s fault and they can still ask for help. Identify with the child the safety net of adults they have in their life that they can go to with a problem. Point out all of the people working to make this particular problem better. Most people want to keep kids safe.
Avoid asking about one particular person. If a specific suspect is brought up by your child and your child has a sudden shift in behavior or brings up past problems with this individual, don’t grill them about details or push for answers. Call the police agency who is investigating the case and ask about having a trained interviewer talk to your child.
If your child does report that they have been abused or targeted:
- Allow the child to talk if they want to, but don’t press for details.
- Report to the authorities.
- Let the child know that they didn’t do anything wrong.