Helping Kids Cope with Tragedy

Mother comforting child in a time of need.
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As parents, tragedies can be difficult to address with your children. They’re hearing about them on the news, social media and around their friends. It can certainly be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to open the door to communication.

You may have questions about how to handle these types of situations with your children, and we’ve addressed a few of them here.

Why is it important to talk to your kids about tragic situations?

It’s important to have open and honest communication with kids. We need to give them the truth but keep in mind, we have to balance it out by not saying too much. One of the most effective tools is to listen. Children sometimes just need a basic concrete answer and don't need all the details. Then they can get back to their routine. What they’re most concerned about is how will this affect them. Does this have any implication in their daily life? Once they’re reassured, they can go about their daily lives.

What are some tips when it comes to talking with kids about this?

Ask your kids specific questions. What do you think is going on? What are you most worried about? What is the one thing that bothers you the most about this? Remind them that it’s okay to ask questions. There are no silly or dumb questions. Kids need to know they can trust their parents will tell them all of the necessary information. Specific questions can help narrow down their focus. Sometimes the questions they have might be completely unrelated to the tragedy. They might be worried about traffic or the sound of the helicopters.

Parents can really help set the tone, right?

Sometimes we, as adults, will let our anxiety get the best of us. And sometimes we want to make promises. For example, when it comes to a tragic situation, children often ask if this will ever happen to them or if it could happen at their school? Unfortunately, we can’t predict that it won’t, but we can let them know they’re safe and secure, and there are good people here to protect them.

For young children, is it important to keep the explanation simple? And then, perhaps, turn the focus to the heroes?

Yes, 100 percent. They don’t always need all the details, they just need to know they’re safe. Focus on the love the community is sharing and don’t get involved in the media hype or the hate. Instead, focusing on the good things people are doing can build resilience and character in children as they’re growing. Even in bad times, good things can happen. For people of faith, God is here, and He is still doing great things and trying to make this better. Even though it’s scary and sad, there are still people out there doing good.

How can we relieve their anxiety?

It’s the parent’s job to open up the conversation and give kids the opportunity to talk about it. They might not want to talk about it at first. They might come back to it at a completely random time. It could be a day later or it might be a week. Some children may want to be involved in support efforts by doing things like taking water and cookies to those waiting in line to donate blood. Maybe they want to write a letter or help support in some way. It’s a good way to instill good values and morals and show again that we’re here to help each other.

Is it okay for parents to express their own feelings?

It’s okay for parents to say, “This makes me sad,” and be honest about their feelings. But it’s important to keep those feelings in check, and not to be too anxious or nervous because kids will pick up on it.

How can this affect children from a developmental standpoint?

Kids are going to express their emotions and fears in different ways. Younger kids might not have the language skills to identify ways to express it. They may have sleeping issues, eating habits or regressive behaviors like sucking their thumb again that maybe you haven’t seen in awhile. And it’s normal for that to happen for a little bit of time.

If you or a loved one is having difficulty coping with recent tragedies, it's important to reach out for help. Call us at Call855-303-DOCS for information about AdventHealth’s behavioral health services.

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