Talking To Your Children About Tragic Events

In light of today’s tragedy and the many mass tragedies that have occurred this year, I wanted to help you understand how to talk with your children about tragedy.

First and foremost turn off the TV, talk with your child in person with out the media coverage and speculations.  The gruesome scenes and chaos they see on TV will be hard to process, and scare and confuse them, even more than they may already be.

Sit in a quiet place to talk with your child and if you have more than one child, talk with them one on one.

Let your child navigate where the talk goes, tell them about the event, you do not have to go into detail just tell them what happened.  Then let them ask questions, and answer to the best of your ability.

Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D. who is the Executive Director, The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, wrote an article after shooting at the Dark Knight premier about how to talk to your children about events like mass shootings.  Mary says that it is normal for your children to be concerned about going to the movies, same as the way children reacted to flying in planes after the 9/11 attack.  She suggests,

  • Find out what frightens you children and address their concern.  Most children want to know “Will I be ok?” and “Is this going to happen again?” Remember that depending on age, where the tragedy is in location to your child, and if your child has experienced trauma before will all be factors in their fears.
  • Stick to the Facts. Conflicting stories have the potential to cause confusion and more stress for the child, if you stick to the same, truthful story.  Be prepared to answer questions about death and what happens after you die, these answers can be based on your religious beliefs.
  • Monitor your child’s TV and Internet. Be aware to what your child is watching on the news, and monitor what they are reading on the internet.  Pulido, says most children under the age of 6 or 7 should not be exposed to the media images of the event, but monitor all age children to make sure they are not seeing graphic images from the event.  The images and stories are just going to continue to be seen throughout media outlets as more and more is discovered about the gunman.  Remember, Pulido says, “You can’t ‘unsee’ something.”
  •  Let your children know about all the people who are working to keep them safe.  Tell them about real life heroes, like fireman, policemen and other first responders who helped during that event and during any tragedy.  You can also show them how in events of tragedy communities really band together for support to the community as a whole.

Dr. Mary Pulido, P.h.D “Talking to your kids about the Dark Knight Shooting in Colorado”

The author of How to Say It to Your Child When Bad Thing Happen, Dr. Paul Coleman gives these tips –

  • Wait until their older – Children under the age of 7, really won’t be able to understand what is going on and older than 7, Coleman suggests, wait until they bring it up.  They will hear about it at school, see it on the news or some other media platform, if you know your child has seen information on a tragic event, you then can approach them, especially if they seem concerned.
  • Keep it black and white – Coleman says, “Yes the world can be a cruel place, but little kids, well, can’t handle the truth.  Younger kids need to be reassured that it isn’t going to happen to them.” While there is no guarantee that this will not happen to them, the likelihood is very low and young children will not be able to understand the percentages.
  • Ask questions – Children have a hard time grasping the concept of how big the world is, and when they see something on TV they may think it is the movie theater they have visited.  Coleman says “Don’t assume you know how they feel.  Instead, get at their understanding of what happened.”
  • Don’t label feelings as wrong- Coleman says, “Let them know that their feelings make sense, and that it’s ok to feel whatever they’re feeling. Never make them feel bad about being scared.”
  • Use it as a teaching moment – Talking about these tragedies, can help children open up their ideas about how to help others.  Teach them about relief organizations; bring the feelings to a local level-to someone in your own community, and above all this can be a resource to teach about compassion.

If something tragic has happened to someone you know, you cannot shield you child from it, be truthful but offer separation between what has happened and what they are scared about what can happen.  Coleman says “Say ‘Grandma was very old and sick, but I’m not.”  To help clear up any confusion your child may have.

So, overall, don’t be afraid to talk to your children about a tragic event that has happened and saturated all over the media.  With younger children, let them ask you about the event, ask them questions to find out what they are thinking, and help them cope.

5 Tips on Talking to kids about scary news” by Sasha Emmons, Parenting.com

Pulido, Ph.D., Mary L. “Talking to Your Child About the Dark Knight Shooting in Colorado.”The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 July 2012. Web. 25 July 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-l-pulido-phd/colorado-shooting_b_1692699.html>.