Talking to Kids About Tragedies and Civil Unrest


When terrifying, tragic events occur – like wildfires, mass shootings or civil unrest – we may feel helpless, confused, sad and angry all at the same time.

For parents it can be double tough. They must both take in what’s happening and help their young ones sort out what can be a crush of information. It can be hard to know what to do or say.

Here are some ideas parents have shared in helping themselves and their children explaining challenging times:

Turn off the TV and other media. While it may be tempting to want to know minute-by-minute updates on tragic events, a constant, repetitive stream of disturbing images, words, and sounds may be confusing and increase your child’s—and your own—anxiety. Limit your family’s exposure to news and social media.

Listen, then speak. Listen for your children’s questions or concerns, then respond to those concerns in an age-appropriate way. Avoid unleashing your own anxiety or anger when your child is around. While it is important to let your child know that you are feeling things too, focusing on their concerns first can help them feel safe.

Provide perspective, comfort and reassurance. When terrible things happen, it is important to let children know that adults are working to help keep children safe. Let your child know that tragic events are rare, and that while a tiny number of people may do very bad things, most people do not. Seek out stories of others’ bravery, compassion, or kindness to share with your children.

Acknowledge feelings. A tragic event brings up many different feelings for both children and adults, and all are valid. Acknowledging that all of your child’s feelings are okay is important.

Be patient. The stress of tragic events is profound, and may result in nightmares, ongoing anxious feelings, and sadness for both adults and children. Remembering that everyone may be having a hard time—and may need a little extra patience or kindness—can help.

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