Tips for Talking to Kids About Tragedy

August 27, 2014

Ferguson. Newtown. Earthquakes. Robin Williams. 

It’s hard to know what to say, how to say it and when to say it, especially when trying to explain difficult topics to little minds. Here are some things to be mindful of when trying to make sense of a complex situation:

  • Keep calm and understand: Get down to your child’s level and ask about what concerns them. Talk to them in a soft voice and avoid criticizing or minimizing their concerns.
  • Keep calm and role model: Label your own feelings and emotions. Explain how the situation makes you feel in a way your child can understand. This will show your child that it is OK to have these feelings and talk about them in an appropriate manner. Create a safe environment where feelings can be discussed.
  • Keep calm and turn off the TV: Your child will benefit from 1:1 time with you much more than they would from time spent in front of the TV, viewing endless footage of scary images they don’t understand.
  • Keep calm and ensure safety: Talk with your child about things that protect their safety. Create a plan to address the things that make them scared or nervous. If they know their feelings are validated and that there is a plan for when unexpected things happen, they will feel more secure.
  • Keep calm and carry on: Maintain your normal routine as much as possible. Children need boundaries and structure. They may begin to test limits and want to sleep in Mommy’s bed because he/she is scared, but if this occurs it could be a difficult habit to break. If you know you’re going to have a hard time remaining firm, enlist the support of a partner, friend, or family member who will be able to support you.
  • Keep calm and hug it out: Your child may need hugs and snuggles to be reassured that they are safe and loved.
  • Keep calm and do good: Ask your child how they would like to help those affected by tragedy. Maybe your child would like to donate, think positive thoughts, pray, or organize a fundraiser. Collaborating with your child and empowering them to help goes a long way.