Talking to your children about tragedies

In light of the shooting tragedy in Tucson and the one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, parents should be prepared to talk to their children about these events.

In fact, First Lady Michelle Obama has penned an eloquent letter to parents that offers some insights into talking with your children about tragedies such as Tucson.

Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D.

Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D.

Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D., a child neuropsychologist at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, says these events provide a starting point for discussions with your children. But, these are also subjects that could raise anxieties in children who see the images on TV or hear about them on the radio or the Internet, so it is important to monitor their time listening to, watching and interacting with the news.

Tips for talking to children

Stavinoha suggests parents:

  • Listen to children and encourage them to ask questions at their own level of understanding. It’s OK to say you don’t know all the answers. It’s also OK not to overwhelm them with information that they may not understand.
  • Pay attention to younger children’s play and drawings. They may give you a clue about what they are feeling or what they know about these tragedies. This may provide the opportunity to talk about it and perhaps clarify their questions.
  • Don’t downplay the seriousness of the situation. Especially for older children, it is important to acknowledge the significance of the event.
  • Model healthy parental coping during stressful times. This does not mean hiding your feelings, but rather staying aware of your reactions and showing your children how you deal with a tragedy in a healthy manner.
  • Participate in activities that help put you and your children back in control of the otherwise disturbing situation such as attending prayer services.
  • Seek support from family, friends, church or other social and emotional supports.

If your child is old enough, watch news reports or read the news together to encourage conversation about the topic. PBS has age-appropriate guidelines about how much news children should be watching and what they will understand about the news that are helpful.


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