What to Say to Your Child in the Midst of Tragedy
This has been an emotionally draining week with so much tragedy. I’ve had to take a break from social media and the television just to wrap my mind around all of the sadness and hatred going on in our society. It’s become too much for me to handle even as an adult and trained clinician. Situations like this remind me that I’m human with feelings – just like our children who are curious, confused, or upset when there is a devastating tragedy.
Even though we have our own feelings to deal with, it is our job as parents and guardians to also support our children. So how do we talk to kids about this kind of thing? Will they understand? Can talking about tragedy with my kid cause more harm than good? These are all normal questions. Overall, it’s healthy to talk to your child about tragedy because you are creating an opportunity for open dialogue that will assist in creating feelings of safety and healthy coping for your children. Here are a few suggestions to help you talk to your kids when tragedy strikes:
1. Be aware of your own feelings related to the tragedy
And make sure that you are emotionally ready to talk to your child. Take time to think about what you want to say to your child. It might be best to explore with your child what they know about the tragedy, allowing them to ask any questions and express their feelings and concerns.
2. It’s important to be honest with children.
State the basic facts without providing too much detail, exaggeration, or speculation about the tragedy.
3. Share your thoughts with your child.
However, it is important to listen carefully to your child regarding their feelings and worries. Allow your child’s questions to guide your discussion with them. Use a calm tone of voice, normalize their feelings, and provide accurate information.
4. Provide reassurance.
This is the most important aspect of talking to your child about tragedy. Most tragedies create a sense of fear and helplessness. Make sure to communicate with your child that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe. You can even provide them with suggestions on how they can be safe and seek help if they’re ever in danger.
Your child’s age will dictate your choice of words, but the suggestions provided above should give you a general idea of how you can begin talking to your children. Openly discussing tragic situations with your children lets them know that it’s okay to share their thoughts and feelings. When discussing these kinds of issues, you also want to make sure that nothing is off-limits, no matter how tragic the issue might be. Like adults, children witness the same tragedies and have feelings, questions, and concerns that need to be addressed in a supportive manner. This lets your children know that their thoughts and feelings are important, understood, and heard…no matter their age.