How to talk to your kids about tragic events

It is never easy to explain tragedy to a child. We’ve compiled a list of resources that may help you talk to your child about frightening events.

From PBS

Sesame Street You Can Ask tool kit

Sesame Street Talking About Big Feelings

Mr. Rogers on how to talk to your kids about scary news

Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, VP of Research and Education at Sesame Workshop, on talking about scary news

More strategies for talking about news

From the National Association of School Psychologists

A list on tips for helping kids cope with terrorism

From the American Academy of Pediatrics

A list of tips for helping kids cope with and adjust to loss

After the school shooting in Newtown in 2012, we spoke to Dr. Stevan Weine, professor of psychiatry and director of the University of Illinois at Chicago International Center on Responses to Catastrophes, for some tips on discussing the school shooting with children:


Listen to your children. Let them talk and ask questions; let them say what they’re afraid of. Kids sometimes know more than you think they do-they hear adults talk or they hear the television.


Reassure them. Tell them how hard the adults in their life are working to make them safe and that at home and at their school and in their city and their neighborhood, they’re safe.


Let them set the tone and pace for the discussion and proceed on a need-to-know basis. “What you don’t want to do is overwhelm children with too much information or too many scary images.”


Limit children’s exposure to media. “When children see a story about that on the media, they might think it’s happening right in their immediate vicinity, and that’s not good.”


If kids ask why something like this happens, parents “need to look in their own soul and try to explain in an honest way how such a horrible thing can happen, whether they explain it in terms of evil or illness or crime. Every parent has a different explanatory system.”


Try to stick with your normal routine. “It’s important for parents to not only say reassuring things, but act calm and normal themselves, because the children will pick up on all the nonverbal signals from parents.

Most kids are resilient and will absorb this kind of scary news and keep going or bounce back, Weine says. But if a child’s play begins involving violence or death, if they’re drawing lots of scary images, if they’re not sleeping or eating or concentrating well, if they’re more sullen or withdrawn, it may be time to seek professional help.

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