How to Help Children when They Hear about Tragedies

It’s difficult to know what to do when our kids hear about trauma and natural disasters. The latest research points to the utter futility of being able to shield our children from any form of violence. According to Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media, an online resource for vetting kid’s media, “Ninety percent of movies, 68% of video games, and 60% of TV shows show some depictions of violence.”

What does prolonged exposure to media violence do to kids’ brains and psyches? The research is woefully out of date and incomplete.

What we do know is that controlling what kind of and how much media our children consume is far easier than shielding them from real-world violence and devastation.

No child should have to learn about a school shooting, terrorist attack or that fact that adults and children were killed in a disaster somewhere in the world. But protecting them from hard truths is not the answer.

The reality is that parents have to talk about reality. Children will inevitably hear about terrifying events and it will be more damaging for your child if you are reluctant to speak with them about it.

Here are some pointers to think about to help your child when they hear about tragedies:

Try to Stay Calm

More than the words you say, children are intimately tuned in to their parents’ emotional reactions. This is how they gauge what is actually going on and how they will react.

Though it can be difficult, it is important that you try and remain as calm as possible to reassure your child, while at the same time, letting them know that it’s okay for them to feel upset. This is definitely easier said than done- and if you mess it up initially, it’s ok- you can recover. Once you calm yourself, you’ll be able to calm your child.

Determine What Your Child is Really Worried About

Sometimes when we assume what’s going on in our kids’ minds we are wildly wrong. And if we answer questions they aren’t asking, we can cause more harm than we might have to otherwise. So go ahead and ask them.

They might wonder “Did people die? Why would someone hurt kids? Are they bad people? Are there bad people in our neighborhood? Will there be a war?” When kids ask questions like this they are trying to determine if THEY are safe. The answers you give should be truthful but age-appropriate, with a final assurance that your family is safe.

Keep Your Daily Routines

Scary stuff is unpredictable stuff. Therefore, your child will be reassured by predictability. Stick to your routines as best you can. Along with talking to your child about the events, make sure they can count on some kind of regularity in their lives.

Seek Professional Help if Necessary

If your child continues to show signs of stress or agitation, it might be good to talk with a licensed mental health professional who can help you think through how to help your child. There is nothing that can stress an adult quite like seeing your child struggle. And if your child’s stress is stressing you out, it might help your child by talking about your stress as well.

If we can help, please get in touch.


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