Resources For Parents And Guardians: Discussing Tragedies With Children

Parent with child
Reminding your child of their safety and providing physical comfort can be helpful in navigating difficult tragedies.
Credit Flickr photo/Dimitris Papazimouris

KUOW has assembled advice from health care professionals and child advocates on how to manage the many emotions that may arise from tragic events, like the explosions at the Boston Marathon.

Dr. Bob Hilt of Seattle Children's Hospital tells KUOW that parents and guardians should first consider a child's age. "Very young children aren't going to understand statistics," he says. So there's no reason  to explain a disaster and how remote its chances are of happening again to a young child who doesn't know what happened. But if a child hears about a disaster and has questions, "get yourself calm first," Hilt says. Then consider the child's level of understanding. "An adolescent can have a rather in-depth discussion. And with young kids, provide a lot of reassurance about how they're going to be safe in their school and why you think that's going to be the case."

Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers) provides tips for difficult conversations about tragic events with parents and guardians in "Tragic Events In The News:"

  • Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
  • Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your children feel secure.
  • Give your child extra comfort and physical affection. This closeness can nourish both of you.
  • Try to keep routines as regular as possible. Children and adults count on their familiar pattern of everyday life.
  • Plan something that you and your child enjoy doing together, like taking a walk, going on a picnic, having some quiet time, or doing something silly.
  • Bring up the topic, even if your child doesn't mention what they've seen or heard in the news. Without discussion, children can be left with their misinterpretations.
  • Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers. It's reassuring to know there are many caring people helping others in this world.
  • Let your child know if you're making a donation, going to a town meeting, writing a letter or email of support, or taking some other action. It can help children to know that adults take many different active roles and that we don't give in to helplessness in times of worldwide crisis.

Pediatric psychologist Karen Alberts Saporito shares advice on talking to your kids about trauma with The New York Times audience: "It's important for a parent to first manage their own feelings to some degree, so they can discuss it calmly with their children and ease their anxiety when discussing it, rather than upsetting them more." Additionally, she reminds parents that developmental stages of your child is key to successfully navigating difficult topics.

It's important to consider the age of the child and their developmental capacity to understand death. Younger kids will need to understand they will be safe. They do not need to know the randomness or horrific details, that will raise their anxiety.

If you or your child are struggling with the emotional impact of trauma, please contact the King County Crisis Center at 206.461.3222. Teenagers can talk to other teens by calling 1.866.TEENLINK. The line is staffed by teenagers between the hours of 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.

VIDEO: Seattle Children's Hospital's "Talking To Your Kids About Disasters, Death, Dying And Tragic News"

Further Resources For Parents And Guardians: