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Talking to Children about Tragedy


It can be difficult for adults to discuss a tragedy (natural disaster, mass violence, etc.) much less discuss a tragedy with your children. How do you explain the grief? How do you answer the questions they might have? While it might be easier to avoid the conversation, talking through a tragedy, especially with older children who will be exposed to more outside information, can help your kids learn how to respond and cope with horrific events. Here are several suggestions for talking to children about a tragedy:

Start by asking the child what they've already heard and what questions they might have. In today's day of digital media, it will become increasingly difficult to insulate a child from learning about current events. Let their questions guide the discussion. Listen closely to see if they've been told false information, have misconceptions, or are expressing underlying fears (e.g. will this happen to us?).

Be honest but focus on basic detail. Children can tell when they're being lied to, especially as they age. Answer their questions and discuss the matter truthfully, but avoid gory/graphic details or images. For younger children it may help to be on eye level with them for serious conversations. Use words and concepts that are easily understandable for their age, and avoid overwhelming them with information.

Acknowledge their concerns. Don't dismiss any worries or fears as silly or childish, even if you know something is unlikely (e.g. after a hurricane, a child worrying it could happen to their house in central US). Calmly address any fears so they don't feel ignored.

Be a role model in your reaction. Your children learn most from watching you. Do not reply by stereotyping perpetrators or victims. Teach your children sympathy and compassion for all people who experience a tragedy. If possible, do something as a family to help the victims/survivors.

Observe your children to make sure they are coping well. Watch for sleep problems, or dramatic changes in behavior. Also be aware of any severe emotional changes in your children. Any of these may be a sign the child is not coping well with the tragedy. If you are concerned with how your child is responding, please call us.

As always, if you have any questions or would like more information, please call either office or reach out to us through the "Contact Us" section of this site.

Sources:

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Talking-To-Children-About-Tragedies-and-Other-News-Events.aspx

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2017/10/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-tragedy/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/helping-children-cope/art-20047029


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