How to Talk to Kids in the Wake of Tragedy

TragedyAs adults we struggle to comprehend the tragic loss of lives due to gun violence, harder still is to take on the task of helping our kids feel safe amidst the complexity and uncertainty that we contend with. This guide from the Child Mind Institute has recommendations by age that are very sensitively conveyed. Here is an excerpt, click the link for the full document. Please share widely.

From the Child Mind Institute


Tips for Helping Children After the Event

  • Make your child feel safe. All children, from toddlers to teens, will benefit from your touch—extra cuddling, hugs or just a reassuring pat on the back. It gives them a feeling of security, which is so important in the aftermath of a frightening or disturbing event. For specific information on what to do and say, see the age-by-age-guide.
  • Act calm. Children look to adults for reassurance after traumatic events have occurred. Do not discuss your anxieties with your children, or when they are around, and be aware of the tone of your voice, as children quickly pick up on anxiety.
  • Maintain routines as much as possible. Amidst chaos and change, routines reassure children that life will be okay again. Try to have regular mealtimes and bedtimes. If
    you are homeless or temporarily relocated, establish new routines. And stick with the same family rules, such as ones about good behavior.
  • Help children enjoy themselves. Encourage kids to do activities and play with others. The distraction is good for them, and gives them a sense of normalcy.
  • Share information about what happened. It’s always best to learn the details of a traumatic event from a safe, trusted adult. Be brief and honest, and allow children to ask questions. Don’t presume kids are worrying about the same things as adults.
  • Pick good times to talk. Look for natural openings to have a discussion.
  • Prevent or limit exposure to news coverage. This is especially critical with toddlers and school-age children, as seeing disturbing events recounted on TV or in the newspaper or listening to them on the radio can make them seem to be ongoing. Children who believe bad events are temporary can more quickly recover from them.
  • Understand that children cope in different ways. Some might want to spend extra time with friends and relatives; some might want to spend more time alone. Let your child know it is normal to experience anger, guilt and sadness, and to express things in different ways—for example, a person may feel sad but not cry.

For the entire document, please click here

For more ideas about how to talk to your child about tragic events focusing on stability rather than fear, please click here for a piece I wrote a while back. Thank you for helping to make the world a safer place for us all.


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tamar chansky phd

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