Talking to Children about Tragedy


Parenting Tips and Strategies

These days, the world feels more unsafe than ever. While the events of Las Vegas inspired me to write this post, there have been so many incidents that also warrant this information.

It is important to remember that these tragedies are rare. It hardly feels that way, between our catastrophic hurricane season and several violent incidents both locally and nationally, but their rarity is what makes them newsworthy. You will never see a news report that millions of people went about their daily lives without incident although that is the reality.

Children process things on their own time. Let them talk to you whenever they have concerns. There is often no obvious connection between what may be happening/said just before a child brings up something they’ve been thinking about. I was chatting to a group of students about the weather, of all things, when one child volunteered information about a recent loss that had been suffered. That was my cue to let that child know that I am always available to listen and that she is loved. I would have had no way to prepare for the moment, so always be prepared to listen.

It may help an anxious child to talk through the safeguards that exist in our daily lives. For example, our school has several important safety features that you may or may not be aware of, from always-locked exterior doors to camera surveillance to emergency cards with children’s information. We practice drills every month in the event of emergency: fire, storm, and lockdown. The Brookridge office staff and administrators welcome your questions about our policies and procedures. It can also be beneficial to talk through the safety features of any event you may attend such as going through metal detectors at sporting events or the process of getting through airport security. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

While we should acknowledge these terrible events, it is helpful to limit children’s exposure to every detail. I was a student during both the Columbine tragedy and 9/11 and the teachers let us talk through our feelings and grieve with each other throughout what had started as a normal school day. I feel fortunate to have experienced that kind of emotional awareness. Had I been in elementary school, that kind of open discussion and detail-sharing may have been more harmful than helpful. It may be enough to tell your child the broad outline of the tragedy and encourage questions, rather than disclose every detail to avoid overwhelming with information.

It is important to maintain normalcy as much as possible. It will help your child to feel secure in their routine and minimize their fear. Maintain open communication with your child, your child’s teachers and caregivers, as well as any other important adults in your child’s life. We are all in this together. Tragedy most often brings out the very best in humanity, so celebrate the stories of heroism and solidarity. The good always far outnumbers the bad. I close with a comment from Mr. Fred Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

For further reading:
http://www.pbs.org/parents/talkingwithkids/news/help-kids-feel-safe.html

http://www.bu.edu/cas/magazine/fall14/schonfeld/

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/for-parents/articles/2017-05-24/talking-to-your-children-about-tragedy

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Talking-To-Children-About-Tragedies-and-Other-News-Events.aspx

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2017/10/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-tragedy/

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