How to talk to kids about tragedy
When tragedies occur, whether it’s in the world such as a mass shooting or terrorist attack or within your family such as death or illness, it can be very difficult to talk to your child about what’s happened. It’s hard to know when you should talk to your child or how much is too much. Knowing what to say and do can be helpful during these stressful times. The key thing to remember is you should talk to your kids, but it’s important to know how to talk you your kids about tragedy to help ease their worry, anxiety and fears.
How a child might respond to tragedy
Based on your child’s age and stage your child might react differently to tragic events. You might see some of the following behaviors after your child experiences some form of trauma.
Toddlers/Preschool aged kids: Children in this age and stage are not yet able to verbalize their feelings and emotions. Therefore, you will often see more clinginess and separation anxiety. You may also see a regression in potty training, night-time accidents and possibly disrupted sleep. Tantrums, whining and attention seeking behaviors may become escalated searching for comfort as they try to sort out their worries, fears and anxiety.
School aged kids: Children in this age and stage are more aware of their surroundings and the changes taking place. They are more able to pick up on stress and anxiety from their parents, which directly affects their sense of security. It’s important for parents to do their best to take care of themselves and try to keep their fears and worries under control when around their children. Verbalizing emotions and feelings can be difficult for young children therefore, you might see more anger, aggressiveness or anxious behaviors, particularly around sleep or bed time.
Tween/Teen aged kids: Kids at this age can begin to isolate themselves. Acting as if nothing is wrong or denying that they are feeling anything. Trying to brush all of their feelings under the rug. Kids can often rebel, show signs of anger and begin to push back against rules, boundaries and authority. This is a cry for help and a sign that your child is desperate for you to connect with them, talk with them and support them.
Should I talk to my child about tragedy
Yes! Talking to your child is extremely important. Silence or keeping them in the dark can cause more worry. The silence can make increase anxiety as they try to figure out what’s happening on their own. When you take time to talk to your kids it shows them that they can trust you and that you are there for them. Get down to their level, remain calm and be ready to listen. Talking with your kids about tragedy is a pertinent factor in the healing process.
Age appropriate talk around tragedy
It’s important to use age appropriate language when talking to your child about tragedy. Based on their age you will determine how much is too much. Honesty and real facts are necessary when discussing tragedy with your kids. Lying or budging the facts can make them more worried. They need to know they can trust you. Being honest also allows you to clear up any misconceptions or false information they may have received from friends or the media.
How to talk to kids about tragedy based on age
Toddlers/Preschool aged kids: Avoid too much detail, but still communicate with them about what’s happening. Children’s books are an excellent resource and way to talk about difficult situations with young kids. Use them as a tool to introduce tough conversations. Children’s books use age appropriate language, and pictures to help your child understand hard to grasp concepts. Books help your child feel less alone as they relate to characters in the stories who are experiencing similar struggles.
School aged kids: Use your best judgment on how much is too much based on your child’s maturity, language development and personality. You know your child better than anyone, so listen to your gut. The key is to be there for them. Show them that you are there to listen and comfort them through tough times. Remain calm and avoid expressing your own worries or anxiety. Get down to their level and be ready to listen. Don’t force them to talk, but be sure they know you’re there for them when they are ready to talk. Kids need to feel safe, secure and comforted. Try offering moments to communicate during calm times. Again, use children’s books as a guide and resource to assist you during this difficult time.
Tween/Teen aged kids: Be there for your kids in any way they will let you, whether that’s to sit in silence or go for a walk together. As your child grows there’s nothing more important than developing a mutual respect relationship, so that during hard times they’re willing to open up to you. Don’t force your child to talk. Give them opportunities to communicate feelings by being available to them. Find times they are calm and are used to communicating, maybe before bed or at the dinner table. Remember to give them the choice,
“I am here to talk to you or just listen whenever you are ready.
I know this is very hard, but you’re not alone.”
Coping strategies to help kids with tragedy
Kids need help dealing, coping and processing tragic events. It’s important for them to know they’re not alone. They need you as a support and comfort during difficult times. Making sure to talk to your kids is important, but there are other ways to help your child process and cope with tragedy. You can also try the following suggestions:
- Stick to your routines
- Make sleep a priority
- Have set times to check in with your child daily
- Encourage them to express their feelings
- Offer a journal as a safe place to write down feelings or draw pictures (younger kids)
- Read children’s books to help develop coping skills
- Be available to your child during prime communication times (bedtime, dinner time, car rides)
- Role model talking about feelings and emotions
- Give control by helping a cause – include your child so they see ways to contribute in times of need
- Take care of yourself
- Talk to a professional if behaviors don’t get better
Tragedy is never easy for anyone; adults or children, but when tragedy strikes, your kids need you more than ever. Children are not as familiar or comfortable when it comes to talking about feelings and emotions. These are skills that take time and practice. Be sure to keep a close eye on your child’s behaviors after a tragedy occurs. They’re waiting for you to support, guide and communicate with them. To be their sounding board, facilitator and comfort in times of need.
Article originally written for Life Speak