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How to Talk to Your Kids After a Tragedy

By Kimberly J. Daily, MA, LPC

From shootings and bombings to fires, tornados and other natural disasters, our nation has faced so many tragedies lately.  Technology helps us to stay informed and with the television’s non-stop coverage of these events, we sometimes witness hours of stories, videos and pictures of devastation.  We know our kids are seeing all of this along with us and so the big question we hear from parents and teachers is, “How do we talk to kids about what is happening or what might happen?”

Kids can tell when something tragic is happening and so it is best to talk about it and not just try to ignore it or brush it off with “it’ll be okay, don’t worry about it”.  Often times they will see right through this and come up with answers to their own questions and fears that are worse than reality.  Therefore, it is best to answer questions as they ask. You don’t have to answer them in detail. Many times a little bit of information goes a long way with a child.

It is also important when talking to children about tragedies to reflect back to them their feelings and thoughts. For example, if a young boy asks, “Can a shooter come in my school?” you might respond by saying, “It sounds like you are scared or worried a shooter might come into your school”.  Or, if a young girl says, “Will there be more tornados?”  You might respond, “You are frightened of another tornado.”  From there the child may express other fears or specific concerns. It is not wise to tell the child something will not happen if there is a possibility that it could happen.  Instead, talk about what is being done to prevent it from happening again or what can be done to help keep the child safe. Talk about the safety drills they practice and how the adults are there to help protect them.

Lastly, realize that children will feed off of your emotions. So, if you are freaking out about something, your child will most likely do the same. It is best to admit how you feel and figure out how to best be safe or call for help if you need it.  Do not talk to your kids about all your fears and “what ifs”. Give them reassurance that you will do whatever you need to do to protect them.

Our kids will naturally have questions because they want to know that they are safe. We can help them by acknowledging their feelings, answering their questions, staying calm, offering them a safety plan, and reassuring them that we and other adults are there to protect them. And for you, know that it is okay to not have all the answers.

Kimberly J. Daily, MA, LPC

Author Kimberly J. Daily, MA, LPC

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