Talking with Children about Tragic Events

When a national or international disaster or tragedy strikes, many people feel shocked and helpless as they watch horrific images replay over their television or computer screens. Children in particular can have a tough time understanding what they are seeing and hearing. During these times, it’s critical that parents be prepared to help their children process these types of events in an appropriate way.

With 24-hour news coverage, it can be difficult to limit a child’s exposure to information surrounding a tragedy. Images of injury, destruction and death can be very traumatic for kids to view and make sense of. (Adults included.) In these times, be careful about how much information your child is seeing. Be aware of what their friends and peers are saying about the event as well. Talk with your child about what’s going on and allow them to voice their fears and concerns. Answer their questions about what happened truthfully, but in a way that is age appropriate and not overwhelming.

Many children have fears following a disaster or tragedy about a similar event happening to them or their family. Parents can help by providing extra reassurance that they are safe and cared for. It may also comfort a child to point out that when bad things happen, there are always people ready to help, like police, firefighters, doctors and rescue workers. Keeping a child’s routine as normal as possible, spending time as a family together and offering physical reassurance like extra hugs can send a message to a child that their world is still intact.

When an event happens close to home, or has affected someone the child knows, it can be even more challenging to help them cope. Make sure your child feels comfortable sharing how they feel. Let them know that crying and grieving are natural and expected. Don’t hide your own feelings and reactions, but model how you are coping with them in a way that is positive rather than negative. Keep a careful eye on kids who seem to be dealing with their emotions in an unhealthy way and seek assistance if you feel you may need some professional help getting them through this difficult time.

Consider ways in which your child or family can help those who have suffered. Volunteering for assistance efforts, donating food or clothing items or attending a vigil can be a way to feel that you are doing something positive in a situation that has been so destructive.

Unfortunately, our children seem to be constantly exposed to new tragedies and disasters that our world faces. Although we may not be able to predict or avoid these events, we can be prepared to help our kids when they do arise. By opening lines of communication, reassuring their safety and modeling positive ways to deal with these events ourselves, we can give them the tools to cope now and in the future.

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