When something bad happens, what do you tell your kids? When they witness disaster, how much do you let them see? How much of the truth can they handle? How much truth do you feel you can divulge?

After the horrific massacres in Paris last weekend, Kelly Wallace was asking the same questions:

If possible, children younger than 5 do not need to be told about what happened or exposed to any of the media coverage, said Tricia Ferrara, a licensed professional counselor, parenting strategist and author of “Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now.” “Keeping to routine is the best way to reassure children about the safety of their immediate world,” she said.

Children ages 6 to 11 need just basic facts and minimal exposure to media coverage, she said, adding that there are definite lessons from what children saw in the media following the September 11, 2001, attacks. She points to studies that found that children who had repeated and prolonged exposure to media images had more difficulty with anxiety than kids with less exposure…

… “A child will store the event in memory based on the narrative you assign the event,” Ferrara said. “For this age range, stick to basic facts and turn off the TV.”


The American Academy of Pediatrics offers similar advice for shaken parents:

“As pediatricians, we know that violence can have lasting effects on children even if they are only learning about it through the media. The AAP urges everyone to take care with the images that children see and hear about.”


Older children may need more information:

They will likely want, and benefit from, additional information about the disaster and recovery efforts. No matter what age, start by asking children what they already know and what questions they have and use that as a guide for the conversation.

Limit media coverage of the disaster—if children are going to watch media coverage, consider taping it (to allow adults to preview) and watch along with them to answer questions and help them process the information. While children may seek and benefit from basic information about what happened so that they can understand what is happening in their world, they (and adults) do not benefit from graphic det​ails or exposure to disturbing images or sounds. In the aftermath of a crisis is a good time to disconnect from all media and sit down together and talk as a family.


As for this small Parisian, I think his dad got it just about right:



Read “Talking to Children about Disasters” from HealthyChildren.org here.

Read the rest of Kelly Wallace’s interesting and important article from CNN.com here.