As adults, it’s hard enough for us to process and cope with tragic events, so it can be especially challenging to know how to comfort and reassure our children when they are exposed to these types of events. Children may have a wide range of reactions to tragic events, and it’s important to approach these conversations with empathy and consider the individual child’s maturity and personality. Here are some tips for talking to kids when tragedy strikes, so that they can return to their normal activities without living in fear:
Limit images and news coverage: When a tragic event occurs, there will likely be continuous news coverage, photos, and videos all over social media. This can be overwhelming for adults, let alone children, who may become distressed by the constant coverage. Screen and limit what your child sees and hears from news and social media sources until the reportage dies down.
Coordinate with school or other adult influences: Children may react differently to a tragic event, and some may be more emotionally impacted than others. If you have concerns about how your child is processing the tragedy, speak to their teachers, coaches, or other adult influences in their lives. Let them know your concerns and ask them to keep a close eye on your child when you are not around. This will help them to monitor any conversations other kids may be having about the tragedy and guide or redirect these conversations as needed. You may also want to meet with your child’s teacher to discuss safety protocols in order to reassure your child that they are safe and secure at school.
Be honest: Kids are often smarter than we give them credit for, and they can see through attempts to sugarcoat tragic events. When something terrible has happened, such as a disaster or loss of life, it’s not possible to make it “okay.” Acknowledge to your child that what happened is awful, but try to avoid going into graphic details, especially with younger children. Being honest and open with your child can help them cope and process their reactions and emotions.
Acknowledge your own fears: If kids feel like they are the only ones who are scared or upset, they may feel isolated or like there is something wrong with them. It’s important to let your child know that it’s normal to feel scared or upset in these situations and that you are feeling those emotions too. However, it’s also important to reassure your child that they are safe and that there are measures in place to keep them that way.
Be physically close: Many children find comfort in the physical presence of their parents, so it can be helpful to spend a few extra minutes at bedtime, visit them at lunch at school, or just be physically present with them during this time. Physical closeness can provide comfort and reassurance.
Keep routines as normal as possible: Kids find security in routines, so try to keep their daily routines as normal as possible. This may help them feel a sense of stability and familiarity during a difficult time.
Encourage open communication: Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and ask them questions to gauge their understanding of the event. It’s important to listen actively and validate their emotions, even if you don’t understand them fully.
Seek outside help if needed: If your child is having a hard time coping with the tragedy, it may be helpful to seek the help of a professional, such as a counselor or therapist. They can provide additional support and guidance for your child and your family.
Dealing with tragedy can be a challenging and emotional experience for both adults and children. By following these tips and approaching the conversation with empathy and understanding, you can help your child cope with the event and move forward.