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Be honest when explaining violence to children

By Fred Miller
U of A System Division of Agriculture 
July 13, 2016 

Fast Facts:

  • Children feel distress when disasters or violence are in the news
  • Answering children’s questions honestly can help them cope with distress
  • The Division of Agriculture and other agencies offer information to help parents reassure their children 

Related websites:
Helping your kids when disaster strikes (Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service): 

Managing distress in the aftermath of a shooting (American Psychological Association): 

(387 words)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Disasters, gun violence and other bad news can stir fear, confusion and questions into children’s lives. But adults who know how to deal with their children’s fears can bring comfort and certainty in uncertain times. 

Dr. Brittney Schrick, who has a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies, is an extension family life specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. She said parents should keep Their children’s personalities in mind, especially their sensitivity, when talking with them about violence in the news. 

Parents speaking with daughter

“If parents are stressed, the kids will feel stress, too,” Schrick said. Their emotional response to it will depend on their ages and personalities, she added. 

Answer questions honestly, Schrick said. Evasive answers aimed at protecting kids often lead to increased or extended fear. 

“Validate their emotional response,” Schrick said, “and reassure them they are in no immediate danger. They need to feel that Mom and Dad are in control.” 

For young children — preschool and younger, Schrick recommends adults only answer those questions they ask and only what they ask. Keep answers simple and direct. Detailed explanations may only confuse young children and increase their stress. 

Kids in elementary school through middle school will be better able to verbalize their questions, Schrick said, and will be able to understand more nuanced answers. It becomes more important to give them complete answers because they will fill in the gaps with information from other sources — friends, the internet, etc. — that may not provide accurate answers. 

Schrick also recommended taking a break from media coverage. Many people will keep the news on continuously during a crisis, and the constant flow of bad news will add to children’s stress. Extended news coverage of shooting violence, for example, may suggest to children it’s all that’s going on in the world. 

Taking a break from the news can be good for adults’ emotional health, too, Schrick said.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service has online resources for helping children and adults cope with disasters and other bad news. This webpage includes links to resources from FEMA and Mental Health America: 

Schrick also recommends information from the American Psychological Association for managing distress in the aftermath of a shooting: 

For more information on coping with family issues, contact your county extension office or visit www.


The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. 

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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