I have been asked by a local television station to give parents advice on how to prevent their children from becoming overly fearful during this most recent spate of highly publicized shootings -- at the mall in Nebraska and at two churches in Colorado. I've been giving advice in the wake of similar high-profile news events for some time on my web site (for example, see my advice after the Virginia Tech shootings).
What can I say for a 2 1/2 minute TV piece?
1) These news stories are not "educational." Kids will not miss anything they need to know if they don't hear about or see these stories, so don't be afraid to shield your child from this information. In general, don't watch the news with your young children in the room.
2) If they do hear about it or you know they will hear about it, describe it to them in the least emotional, most calming way possible.
3) In explaining it to them, try to find as many contrasts you can between your child's situation and the one they've heard about. For example, you could say, if it's true, that nothing like that has ever happened here (even though you know that it could happen anywhere).
4) Talk about what we've learned from the tragedy, for example, that security people are paying better attention now.
5) If a child is frightened, be understanding and give him or her your calm, warm attention. If they are fixated on it, drawing pictures about it may help younger children; writing about it may help older children and adults.
6) Younger children may simply want to get their mind off of it and do something distracting and fun.
7) Remember that television often creates the most intense emotions about these stories because it often shows vividly visual, emotional events. Because local tragedies become national via television, television makes the world seem much scarier than it really is.