How to talk to your child about traumatic events

Part of parenting is protecting your child and helping them navigate difficult situations, organize their thoughts and express their emotions. One of the most challenging conversations a parent can have with their child is one that involves tragedy. In this digital era, children are exposed to everything. It is no longer an option to hide the ugly happenings in the world from your child. The images and the news is everywhere. There is no easy way to talk to your child about traumatic events but there are things you can do to help them cope with what they are seeing, hearing and feeling.

Here are some tips to facilitate conversation:

  • Keep in mind your child’s developmental stage and personality when exchanging thoughts and information. Elementary school children do not need elaborate explanations. They are looking for simple answers and reassurance that they will be safe. High school kids on the other hand may want details, facts and explanations and a space to vent safely.
  • Listen first, ask questions later. Give them the opportunity to express their concerns and feelings about what has occurred. Respond with empathy. Don’t make assumptions. Answer their questions honestly, even if that means “I don’t know.” And remember to ask them how you could help?
  • Validate their feelings. Let them know it’s ok to feel the way they do. Normalize their feelings by saying, “ It’s normal to feel sad, angry or scared when tragedy occurs.“
  • Don’t obsess about talking about the tragedy. Let them know that you are available to listen and answer any questions as they arise.
  • Balance grief with positive memories.
  • Assure them that there are good people in the world working hard to keep them safe and fix the problem.
  • Empower them to speak up to teachers, legislature, peers. Remind them that their voice and feelings matter.
  • Encourage self care and model it. Self care can include meditating, yoga, journaling, expression through art, exercising, eating healthy, sleeping well and focusing on the positive.

Listening and talking is the key to a healthy connection between you and your child.