9 Tips for Talking to Kids about Tragedies

Last night Anson (6) was quietly sitting at the table coloring. The TV was on and the adults were standing around talking about a deadly Oklahoma tornado and the 24 third grade children who were trapped in the rubble. Our conversations about this tragic event continued. We argued about the government, FEMA, super storms, the environment, greenhouse emissions, droughts, earthquakes, politics. Anson just kept coloring. At bedtime, she asked if she could sleep with her sisters because she didn’t want to be alone.


As adults, it’s normal to want to talk through our grief and anxieties. It’s how we cope. But for a child whose feelings of security within her world are based on her environment (home, school, city), news and images of a tragedy can shake her at the core. In my own fear and sadness for the events surrounding Oklahoma, I forgot to protect the most important person in the room–my own child.

As I prepared to write this article, I contacted my daughter’s school counselor for insight into how best to handle talking to kids about tragedy. She was incredibly insightful, as usual. Here are some helpful tips that I gathered from our conversation, as well as tips from various resources around the web. Also, Dr. Dahlia Topolosky offers more great insight in her post How my children found out about the boston marathon bombings.

9 Tips for Talking to Kids about Tragedies

  1. Turn off the media. Watching and hearing about tragedy all day and all night can be overwhelming, even for adults.
  2. If your child is old enough to watch the news, watch with him: this is the easiest way to monitor what your child is exposed to and a great way to gauge if your child is overwhelmed or wants to learn more. Talk about what you see, let your child comment on the images and stories as they appear.
  3. Don’t tell too much if they’re not asking. Find out what they know before you go into too much detail. A child’s perception of a traumatic situation may be different from an adult’s perception.
  4. Ask open-ended questions: “I noticed you squeezed my hand a little tighter when Daddy was talking about the tornado. What do you think about that?”
  5. Look for changes in behavior like worrying about what time you’re going to pick them up from school, fear of sleeping alone, a huge emotional reaction to something small.
  6. Bath time, nighttime, or bed time are great times to find out if a child has concerns or fears because she is more relaxed, open and vulnerable.
  7. Children are naturally narcissistic (the world is all about them… the good, the bad, the ugly); make sure they don’t think they did anything to cause it.
  8. Assure them they are safe, that the adults are doing what they are supposed to be doing to make sure everyone is ok.
  9. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers: “I can tell you’re really thinking about this. I don’t know why it happened but you are safe.”


How to Help Victims of the Oklahoma Tornados

Tips for Helping Families and Children Cope with Disaster and Stress

Advice On How Kids, Adults Can Cope With Tragedy

Talking to Your Kids About Natural Disasters, War, and Violence

3 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Scary News

When Terrible Things Happen

Image Source: http://marilynfenn.com/

Written by Ashley Bond

Ashley Bond

Founder of parenting blog, entrepreneur, underestimated disorganized overachiever.

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