Talking to Kids About Tragedies

Sad Child

by Joy Burgess

Scary news seems to be everywhere in the media these days. With the recent tragedies in Paris and other ISIS attacks around the world, many children are beginning to ask their parents questions about these senseless acts of violence. Kids are often exposed to the news today, bombarded with images of shootings, earthquakes, bombings, and more. As adults, we find these events scary and unsettling, but tragedies can be downright terrifying to children. When tragedy occurs, it’s important to talk to your child, ensuring that they feel safe and secure. Of course, what and how much you share should be dependent on the temperament and age of your child. Keep these helpful tips and suggestions in mind as you help your child navigate the many tragic events that take place in our world today.

The Importance of Limiting Your Child’s Media Exposure

First, it’s important to limit your child’s media exposure, especially for your younger children. Children under the age of five don’t need to be exposed to tragedies like Paris at all. Older children between 6-11 years of age can be given the basic facts and they should only have very little exposure to the media coverage. For children of this age, constantly being exposed to terrifying images can result in problems with anxiety among children.

After the recent Paris attacks, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement suggesting that parents be very careful about the images their children see after the terror attacks in Paris. Violence has lasting effects on kids, even if they only hear about it and see it via media. For children under age 11, it’s important to avoid the details that may be scary and disturbing to children. However, it’s still important to allow your child to express any feelings they may have after learning about a tragedy.

Bring Up the Tragedy Yourself if Your Child Doesn’t

When a tragedy occurs, your child may not bring up the topic. Even if they hear or see the topic in the news, they may be reluctant to talk about it. If you know that your child is aware of a tragedy, and they don’t bring it up, take the time to bring it up yourself. Ask your child what he thinks happened so you can find out what he thinks actually occurred. In many cases, children are left with misinterpretations of a tragic event, which can be even more of a problem. Kids often hear about tragedies like Paris from other peers, and it’s important to ensure they know the truth about the vent. Spend some time bringing up the problem and find out what they know about it so you can correct any misinterpretations.

Ask Questions to Find Out Your Child’s Concerns

When scary events take place, kids are sure to begin asking you questions about the details. They may ask questions like: “Will that ever happen here?” Where were the child’s parents at?” “Were those people bad?” “Does this mean we’re having a war?” “Who died, etc.?” However, before you begin to answer these questions, be sure that you’re fully sure what they are asking. You can find out the root of your child’s concerns by asking some questions of your own. For example, if your child asks “Will that every happen here?” you could ask your child the same question, asking what they think about it.

In many cases, children worry about your personal safety or their own personal safety. If this is the root concern of their questions, it’s possible for you to offer them specific reassurances so they know that they are okay and you are okay.

Offer Your Child Reassurance

It’s important to offer your child plenty of reassurance when you’re talking to kids about recent tragedies that have occurred. This is especially important when children are worrying if a tragedy will happen to them. Most kids immediately wonder if they and the people they love are safe.

When your child needs reassurance, be sure to communicate to your child that you are working hard to make sure they stay safe. However, you should avoid giving false assurances to your child. Showing your child that you will be courageous and unafraid, even when turmoil and tragedy hit, will help your child be strong and courageous as well.

While reassuring your child, make sure that you let them know that it’s okay to be scared or sad. Many kids will try to hide their feelings. This is a time when you can help your child accept that their feelings are normal and natural, making it easier for them to manage these feelings when they occur.

Make Sure You Remain Calm

Of course, when you’re talking to kids about tragedies, it’s important to make sure that you remain calm. Your children are sensitive to your emotions, so you need to make sure that you keep your reaction calm. If your children hear you talking about a tragedy and ask about it, it’s a good idea to keep your explanation brief but honest. Be sure to let your child know that you will be fine.

Remember, you want to be calm, using your body language, demeanor, and response to show your kids that you’ll be okay. However, you also want to express how you feel to some extend so kids know that showing emotions is okay. Showing emotion and being vulnerable can teach your child important lessons, but keep yourself calm and they’ll stay calmer too.

Stick to Comforting Routines

Kids love routine. It makes their life feel predictable, even when the rest of the world seems it’s falling apart. When a tragedy like the Paris terror attacks occur, make sure that you stick with your child’s comforting routines. When life feels unpredictable and scary, kids find comfort in the predictable. When you add this to talking to your children, it reassures them that their world will keep going on and things will be okay, even if they are feeling scared at the moment. The familiarity of everyday life patterns makes life feel more normal, even when a tragedy has occurred.

Other Helpful Tips

As you talk with children about tragedies, consider using the following tips and strategies as well:

  • Spend time with your child. Just being in your presence can make them feel even more secure.
  • Make sure you give your child even more physical affection and comfort, such as snuggling together with a bedtime story or giving more hugs. This offers a physical sense of security that will nourish both you and your child.
  • Do things that you and your child enjoy doing together, such as having a picnic, playing, or going on a walk together. Having some time together can help kids feel more secure when they are scared.
  • Point out the helpers when tragedies occur, such as doctors, police, firemen, doctors, volunteers, paramedics, etc. This helps your children see that there are many people who are trying to help. If you’ve experienced a traumatizing fire incident then you and your kid should know the Five Critical Things To Do After A Fire.

Paris Attacks through the eyes of a child. This is a very heartbreaking moment as a father tries to help his young son cope and feel comforted.


joy burgess Joy Burgess is a professional writer. She is 35 year old wife and step mom, currently living in Arizona. Her family includes her husband, step son, step daughter, and dog, Chewy. Along with being a full time step mom, Joy also works full time as a writer and musician. Hobbies and interests include scrapbooking, gardening, playing the piano, cooking, and finding a few spare moments of quiet time alone.

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