Tragedy: Tips for Talking to Your Children

When tragedy strikes, we keep the television and radio on for all the up-to-date coverage. We  become immersed in our smartphones and tablets, browsing through photos and watching videos. While this may be the only way to stay informed and get answers when we feel helpless and hopeless, children may be in the background absorbing the same information. If the information that we absorb is difficult to process, imagine how confusing it can be for a child.


As parents and caregivers, sharing information with children is a hard decision. Ideally, we’d love to present the world to our children in a soft and loving light, but the reality makes it feel like a lie. Although it’s important to keep our children informed, as it’s likely they will hear or see snippets of news, how much is too much and how should it be presented?


You have the right to deliver news to your child the way you see fit, but if you’re struggling to find the ways to have an age appropriate discussion, here are some tips and ideas:

Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Your Child


Just because your child hasn’t talked about the latest natural disaster or mass shooting, it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have questions. Chances are, he or she may be scared, confused, and anxious, yet unable to ask or find the right questions. Many parents are afraid to bring up a sensitive subject like tragedy because they don’t want to bring up negative news just in case the child hasn’t heard anything about the recent tragedies.


While he or she may have no idea what’s going on in the world, it’s only a matter of time before he or she sees a graphic picture of violence, hears a snippet from other adults, or even hears a confusing version from a friend. Make the move to have a conversation, it’s always better to hear it from you first.

Answer Questions, Don’t Overload Child with Information


When talking with your child about a tragic event, answer any and all questions that come up. Don’t ignore a question, but rather try to answer it with an age appropriate response. For example, if trying to explain a school shooting to your school aged child don’t go in detail about how many children or parents were killed. Instead, you can explain something like, “Someone went into a school and hurt a lot of people. It’s very sad news, but you are safe in your school and at home.”


You can also show your child a map or globe and point out the distance of the tragedy from where you live. Avoid letting your child watch the news as much of the information is repeated often and a younger child may have a hard time understanding that it’s a “recap” of information.

Take Your Child’s Anxiety Seriously


Even if you’ve told your child that he or she is safe, he or she may still feel anxious or have feelings that are difficult to explain; this is natural. Don’t get upset or frustrated with your child for feeling scared. Tragedy affects everyone differently, how does it make you feel? In efforts to keep life “normal” do just that. Maintaining a routine schedule can help children get past some anxiety. Maybe your son or daughter is terrified to go to school and you let him or her stay home for a day or two. If you continue to allow days off, you’re actually enabling the anxiety and your child may continue to perceive that school is an unsafe environment.
If concerns or issues continue, contact your child’s doctor or a psychologist for further tips on talking with your child.

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