Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Tragedy
When a tragedy like a terrorist attack, a shooting or a natural disaster occurs, it can be hard to know what you should and shouldn’t say to your kids about it. We turned to parenting expert Lori Gottlieb for some tips about how to have the conversation.
Turn off your television.
This is particularly important for younger kids. While it may be tempting to watch the news with them in the room to stay up-to-date on a developing story, young children can’t make sense of the images they see. Initiate a conversation with them first if you want to make sure they hear the news from you first.
Answer their questions.
Younger children may have very literal questions – "Why is this person bleeding?" (they may have seen images), etc. Be concise and honest with them. But don’t automatically assume your kids are scared – they may just be curious. Say things like “I know this is confusing” rather than “I know this may be scary,” because you don’t want to introduce fear into the conversation if they are not feeling that way. Also, make sure you understand what they are asking. If they are wondering where someone got a weapon from, you don’t want to start talking about gun control or anything else that wouldn’t normally cross their minds.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to know all the answers.
Your children may ask basic questions to start with, but they may have follow-up questions after they have spoken to friends or have thought about what you initially discussed regarding a tragic event. It’s ok not to know all the answers while also being reassuring. You may not know, for instance, whether this type of tragedy would ever happen again. But you can explain that events like these are very rare.
Don’t avoid the conversation.
Children have a knack for bringing lofty subjects up at inconvenient times – while you are rushing out the door or about to drop them off at school. Explain to them that you DO want to talk to them about it but that you would rather do it at a time when you can really devote some attention to it. Make sure you follow up so they don’t think you are avoiding the topic. And keep encouraging them to feel free to come to you with questions. Say things like, “I’m glad you asked” or “What a great question.”
Limit social media.
Make sure your teens and tweens limit their social-media exposure about the tragic event for the first few days after its occurrence. Explain that the constant photos, videos and updates could ultimately have a negative impact.
Traumatic events can make kids feel helpless, so you may want to talk about the various ways that people in the community came together to help. This will show them that even in these situations, people can take action to make things better. And if they'd like to help out themselves, see if they can donate clothes or send a compassionate note or propose something for their class to do to help (often schools are happy to get involved).