How to talk to children about tragic events


Natural disasters, freak accidents, mass shootings, global pandemics and world wars are probably not things you ever imagined having to explain to your child but when they look to you for answers, it's important to know what to say.

Here are a few helpful tips when it comes to discussing upsetting world events with your child or children:
1. Validate their feelings

Don’t dismiss their worries or say things like, ‘don’t be silly, that has nothing to do with you.’ Be calm and fully present when they present their concerns and let them know that it’s okay to feel scared or upset.

Normalise talking about these things each day if you think they need an emotional release.

2. Tailor the facts to the age of the child

While it’s important to be transparent, it’s also a good idea to give the facts in an age appropriate way. For younger children, keep it short and simple.

Explain that sometimes these things happen and when they do, people can get hurt. For older children, listen to what they have to say but don’t add to their anxiety with more than they need to know.

3. Ask them how much they know already

If your child is older, there’s a good chance that they will already know a lot of what is happening from social media and their peers. Ask them about what they already know, how they feel about what they’ve seen and read, and question where they’re getting their information. 

Encourage them to limit their news consumption and take breaks from social media to do other hobbies like spending time outdoors, painting, playing music or even watching a funny show on TV.

4. Reassure them

What children need most at times like this is reassurance. Let them know that you are there for them whenever they need to talk.

Focus on the positive news – the volunteers coming together to help, the communities raising money and collecting donations or the emergency services looking after people. Remind them that good things can happen, even in a time of tragedy.

5. Don’t force the conversation

Don’t be worried if your child doesn’t want to talk about what’s happening. Not every child will. There’s no need to force the conversation if they’re not showing any signs of anxiety.

However, if you are noticing that they are clingier than usual, have trouble sleeping, tummy trouble or are suffering from mood swings, it is worth sitting them down and having a chat.

6. Give them a practical way to help 

Doing something to help is a great way of taking your child’s mind off their worries. Instead of ruminating and indulging in upsetting thoughts, they can see how their actions can help the people that are suffering. 

Whether it’s shopping for supplies to donate or organising a fundraiser for the cause, it’s a fantastic way to teach your child empathy and empower them with the skills to help others as they grow up.

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