Talking to Your Children About a Tragedy

I’ve found myself extra sensitive to the media reports the last few days following the Las Vegas tragedy.  You see, at the ages of 5 and 3, my little girls don’t understand death, let alone a mass shooting.  I don’t want them to hear the reports.  It seems “too soon” to expose them to such horror.  As a parent, we want to shelter their hearts and minds.  The problem is, we don’t live in a bubble and we can’t control what our children hear when they are at school, childcare, or with friends.  A friend reminded me today, “some kid is going to say something, so be the first person they hear it from so that you can frame the narrative and lessen the blow.”  It was a great reminder for me that it’s my responsibility as a parent to give them tools to process and handle ‘bad news.’  So how do we do that?

A few tips from Mayo Health Clinic:

  • Remain calm. Your child will look to you for cues about how to react. It’s OK for children to see adults sad or crying, but consider excusing yourself if you’re experiencing intense emotions.
  • Reassure your child of his or her safety. Point out factors that ensure your child’s immediate safety and the safety of the community. Consider reviewing your family’s plans for responding to a crisis.
  • Limit media exposure. Don’t allow young children to repeatedly see or hear coverage of a tragedy. Even if your young child is engrossed in play, he or she is likely aware of what you’re watching — and might become confused or upset. Older children might want to learn more about a tragedy by reading or watching TV. However, avoid repetitive loops of news information once you have the facts. Constant exposure to coverage of a tragedy can heighten anxiety.
  • Avoid placing blame. If the tragedy was caused by human violence or error, be careful not to blame a cultural, racial or ethnic group, or people who have mental illnesses.
  • Maintain the routine. To give your child a sense of normalcy, keep up your family’s usual dinner, homework and bedtime routine.
  • Spend extra time together. Special attention can foster your child’s sense of security. Spend a little more time reading to your child or tucking him or her in at night. If your child is having trouble sleeping, allow him or her to sleep with a light on or to sleep in your room for a short time. Extra cuddles might help, too.
  • Encourage the expression of feelings. Explain that it’s OK to be upset or cry. Let your child write about or draw what he or she is feeling. Physical activity might serve as an outlet for feelings or frustration. If your child is acting out, explain that there are other ways of coping.
  • Do something for those affected by the tragedy. Consider ways that you and your child can help victims and their families. You might take your child to your place of worship or write thank-you notes to first responders.
 Don’t forget about self-care.  Pay attention to your own feelings of grief, anger or anxiety. Lean on loved ones for support or talk to a mental health provider. Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and stay active. Taking care of yourself will enable you to care for your child and serve as a role model for how to cope.



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