How to Talk to Your Child about Tragic Events

As parents, we can often struggle with what we should say and share with our children when tragic events occur. Our children watch and observe us. It’s through our actions that we teach our children how to live. When a tragedy occurs, we can teach our children to understand and cope with the events that happen around them. Unfortunately, tragic events are happening all too often and we need to find a way to have a dialogue with our kids. I hope this gives you a few resources you can use to open those hard conversations. 

How to Talk to Your Child about Tragic Events

Let Your Child Take the Lead

When tragic events occur it’s a good idea to let your child steer the conversation at first. You can broach the subject by asking what they’ve heard about the tragedy but then it’s important to let the child take over. It’s very likely that they’re discussing it in school or their friends are sharing information. Allow them to ask questions and share their fears or concerns.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests giving your child information that isn’t overwhelming and appropriate for their age.

“Something happened in (city, state, etc) and some people were hurt. The police are doing their job, so it doesn’t happen again.”

Depending on the severity of the tragedy you can include information on how other first responders are helping or what your family is going to do to help {more on that later}.

Honesty over Exaggeration

When your child asks questions about the tragedy, tell the truth but don’t speculate or include unnecessary details. This is your chance to clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings they may have overheard from friends or other adults.

Older children and teens may not have much to say about the tragedy at first. They may be struggling with their own emotions over the events. Continue to keep the lines of communication open and let them know you’re available. Even though teens are on edge of becoming adults, they don’t yet process tragic events like adults do and still require our guidance to make sense of the disasters and tragedies that happen in our world.

Considerations for Special Needs Children

For children that are on the Autism Spectrum or have developmental delays, you need to tailor what you say to their developmental age instead of their physical age. Again, leave out unnecessary details or information that may upset him or her.

You know your child better than anyone else so ask yourself when it comes to tragic events, what might cause them greater anxiety? What information will they not understand? Form your questions around what you know will work for them.

Keep the Conversation Respectful

Older children and teens may react by telling you what they would do if they were in the place of the victim(s). They may sound like they’re accusing the victims for not reacting a certain way or blaming them for the situation they were in, but this is really a response to their own fear. Hear them out and remind them that no one truly knows how they will respond during a tragedy.

Invoke a Media Break

Learning about violent events through the media can have a lasting effect on children of all ages. You can give your child the information they need without constant access to the graphic details the media may report.

It’s not healthy for any of us to become engrossed 24/7. Repeat loops or recaps of the event may only increase your child’s and your own anxiety about the tragedy.

We can model to our children what it means to take a break from the media by turning off the tv and unplugging from the media – especially during family time.

Focus on the Positive

Feeling helpless and scared during tragic events or disasters is a very natural emotion. Explain to your child that everyone feels scared, helpless, or even angry but there are positive ways to deal with those emotions. Discuss ways to get involved or volunteer to help the victims.

Your child likely feels an increased sense of anxiety about the events which is completely normal. Take some time to think about what you want to say to your child. It might be tempting to reassure your child immediately but it’s better to listen and hear them out, so you can respond accordingly. 

Listening to what your child says is important in making them feel safe.


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