Talking to Kids About Tragedies

Ashley B | December 15, 2012 | 56 Comments

With the heartbreaking and horrifying events that happened yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut, many of us are reeling: Not only are we all holding our babies a little tighter today and swallowing back our deepest fears as we fathom putting them on schoolbuses and dropping them off at their schools on Monday, but we may not know how to talk to our children about the tragedy. While many of us discussed yesterday’s shootings with our children last night, some of us haven’t yet. Here are some tips on talking about tragedies with our children:

  • Talk about it. Yes, it’s hard, but do it this weekend, before they go back to school on Monday. Most of the kids in your child’s class are going to hear about what happened before then, and they will be talking about it themselves. Also, depending on your child’s age and grade, the teacher might talk about it, too. You want the information to come from you first.
  • Reassure them that they are as safe as possible. If your child’s school has special sign-in procedures for visitors or other safety measures in place to prevent unauthorized people from being on the grounds, talk about them. If your child is worried about his safety at home, mention the facts that apply, such as the fact that you live in a safe area, that you have a large dog, that you have an alarm system, etc. Also, assure them that you and other adults in the community (teachers, police officers) are there to protect them. Stress that these incidents happen very rarely, and that they are no less safe today than they were yesterday or the day before.
  • Limit their exposure to the news. Hearing the shooting discussed on the radio or seeing disturbing interviews and images on television can be very disturbing to adults, not to mention children. Last night, I changed the radio station twice when the topic came up; I didn’t want my kids to get their information from radio personalities at their ages.
  • Talk about the helpers. You may have read the quote by Mr. Rogers about looking for the helpers in any tragedy. Stress to your child that there are many more good people than bad people in the world, and that others step forward to help keep kids safe. When there’s an emergency, people give blood, food, clothing and other items in order to help. This can be reassuring to a child.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know why people do the things they do. No one knows what was going through the mind of the person who pulled the trigger, and we don’t know why these things happen.
  • Encourage your child to talk about her fears. As the days, weeks and even months pass, she may have more thoughts about the topic that she needs to express. If she is young, she might act out  or express some of her feelings with her toys, her play or her art supplies. This can be very healthy behavior and should be encouraged.
  • Get professional help if you think that your child is too anxious or depressed. If he seems very fearful for more than a few nights or if he is very afraid of going to school next week, talk to his pediatrician. She can either set your mind at ease that it’s developmentally appropriate or refer him for counseling, if it’s needed.

We express our sincere condolences to those affected by this tragedy.

Comments (56)

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  1. Chrystal D says:

    I’m so happy I’m not in this situation. I feel SO badly for all the people who’s lives will change due to this tragedy. My heart goes out to all the kids and all the families.

  2. Karen Pikkaraine says:

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the family s in Newton Connecticut !

  3. Cassandra Huber says:

    This tragedy makes me ill. Even though shootings like this are becoming all too common lately, this one really struck me hard.

  4. denise smith says:

    thank you so much for this post

  5. Renee Travis says:

    I can’t even imagine what these parents are feeling that lost their babies. I don’t know what the world is coming to. I can’t understand how someone can take the life of a child! So sad! 🙁

  6. pamela says:

    i am so sorry for all, i cant imagine the pain they are going thru..

  7. michelle warner says:

    my daughter is so freaked out by this, she wants me to homeschool her now, thank you for the great tips on this, we will be taking a deeper talk tonight

  8. Karen Glatt says:

    It is so heartbreaking to know that we have someone who is only 20 years old and he caused so many peoples lives to be shattered right before Christmas! I am so sad,and the children are affected by this in a way that is hard to deal with. We need to comfort our children now, and in the days coming to give them a sense of peace during this tragic time. God Bless all the innocent victims who lost their lives on Friday!

  9. Lisa Paone says:

    Thank you for writitng this. It is so extremely informative. What has happened is so tragic and sad. If we can’t wrap our minds around it as adults their little minds surely can’t. It breaks my heart.

  10. Rebecca Sinclair says:

    Very good thoughts presented here. We discussed it with our children and were honest with them, that many of our questions regarding the “Why” still aren’t answered. My prayers go out to these families who are now entering the holidays without their precious little ones.

  11. Becky Davis says:

    My thoughts and prayers to those whose lives were cut short in Newtown. Seeing the names today made it even more real. So sad.

  12. Wendy T says:

    Such an unthinkable moment in time that I wish we could all do over.

    Such hard, hard conversations to have with children. I remember when I had to tell my own eleven year old daughter she would not live.

    So much of this is not fair – and that is an understatement.

  13. desiree says:

    our town has got toghter with the doc and then the clergy tohlep the kids here the school you can not get in to them

  14. Kate says:

    As a parent I grieve for the families that suffered a loss. The children and staff that survived that day have a lot of healing to do also. I hope that we all continue to pray for them and their families also.

  15. Pamela Halligan says:

    This advice really helped me talk to my kids about the latest tragedy. Of course, I had to admit I don’t know why anyone would want to harm little kids. I try to limit their exposure to the news. I’d like to keep them innocent as long as I can.

  16. Debi says:

    Approximately what age do you think a child should be before you have this sort of talk with them?

  17. Kelvin Justine says:

    There’s nothing a good talk can do.

  18. Jamers8x2 says:

    I’m so glad you posted this. While I don’t have any kids, I know many who do. I can’t even imagine what all of the parents are going through right now. It amazes me that someone would do such a thing, I can’t even wrap my head around a possible why… I saw the Mr. Rogers helper thing in a post the other day. So great that those kind of people are there to help the good outweigh the bad. People like the teacher, Victoria…Giving her life, so that the children she cared about could be safe. Just heartbreaking, and amazing…

  19. Anne C says:

    Avoiding the issue is not good but it is really hard to talk to a child about it without tearing up. I still feel strong emotions about what happened to those children. God bless their souls.

  20. Karen Mead says:

    I live near this town and I am just so heartbroken for those poor innocent children and adults who were killed. So tragic.

  21. Bill Elliott says:

    This tragedy touches my heart deeply. I have 7 Grandchildren the ages of the victims and can’t even imagine what I would do if something happened to them. I hope and pray the families get through this senseless act of violence some how.

  22. Elena says:

    What a great tragedy. Thank you for this post!

  23. Liza says:

    My heart goes to the families of the victims. Been watching it on tv and I can feel their sufferings. I was crying yesterday when I first saw it.

  24. Chavonne H says:

    It’s such a shame that parents have to tell their kids about such things, because they shouldn’t even happen in the first place.

  25. Misses Giveaways says:

    I hate that we have to tell our kids about things that they should never have to be exposed to.

  26. shirley zolenski says:

    I just can’t believe this is something we even have to tell our kids about. Great article though.

  27. Aubrie G. says:

    I definitely think it’s important to address things at home and in an appropriate way, before kids hear rumors and stories at school which may not be correct (and are terrifying). Great article.

  28. rebeka deleon says:

    i wouldn’t even know how to deal with it if it was my own child. i would have to try my hardest for my other kids but i would be so devastated and i just don’t know how someone can deal with a loss of a 6 year old child 🙁 it breaks my heart

  29. Anya says:

    I know! 🙁 I don’t know how I would break this to my child. How could they understand? It is wonderful to see the nation unite after this tragedy, though. Maybe some good will come out of it… )

  30. Summer says:

    Great post. Still heartbroken.

  31. Lisa R says:

    I am so sick over this, it’s hard to say how a person will handle the loss of their child. I think I would be devastated. My heart goes out to all those families who lost their loved ones

    sibabe64 at ptd dot net

  32. Beth B. says:

    My son isn’t old enough to discuss these kinds of things with…but it won’t be long until he is. 🙁 We shut off the TV so he wouldn’t see any of it. Not something a 4 year old needs to know about. My prayers to all who were affected….this affected the whole Nation. 🙁

  33. Stephanie Thompson says:

    That is very good advise.

  34. Kristin says:

    My youngest is a teen so thankfully she can process this at a more mature level…that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that I’m not a little anxious myself. The whole thing is very unsettling. And, I, like many others, feel the need to know why this happened. I don’t know why we have that urge…but it’s like we can’t possibly move on without knowing WHY.

  35. Bobbie Gilliam says:

    this has been a hard one this week with what happened last week in Connecticut and well even Teenagers do not understand it and I don’t either so it has been very hard but we have been letting them know that it is ok to be sad for the victims and the survivors, thanks

  36. Tiffany Segress says:

    Thank you for the tips. Explaining to a 4 year old on what to do if this ever happened at her school is tough.

  37. Holly Trudeau says:

    It’s so hard for children to understand why God lets things like this happen, heck it’s hard for adults to understand! They’re so innocent and their little minds can’t wrap their minds around it, thank you for the helpful advice!

  38. cathy henatyszen says:

    This was a horrible thing that happened, my dad says they should just bulldoze the school!!!

  39. Cami says:

    My Heart aches for anyone affected by this tradegy. Didn’t talk to my kids because my oldest is 3 and I don’t think he would quite understand.

  40. rachel rohde says:

    thanks so much for this. it really helps.

  41. Karen Glatt says:

    I still feel very sad today for the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy! I can not comprehend how someone can kill so many innocent children! May all the children RIP In Heaven!

  42. jessica says:

    i really hope that this world can get it together , i know that nobody knows when someone can snap but more protection in schools, i have everyone in newton and others that were affected by this tragedy in my thought :/

  43. Shannon Coward says:

    Still so heartbroken! My kids and I have talked about this on a daily basis! Thank you for writing this article!

  44. Melissa Say What? says:

    Without going into too many details, for anonymity purposes there were many local talks of additional protection for schools after the horrific event that unfolded in CT, but I have already witnessed the “all talk” phenomenon. It’s a shame that educators and legislators would utilize this as an opportunity to gain media attention for their “efforts” rather than actually delivering on their promises to protect our children.

  45. lisa lo says:

    My niece is in kdg so this really worries me.

  46. I agree with talking openly, honestly, and age-appropriately with our children about tragedies and I am so sad for all the victims of the shooting! horrific!

  47. It takes a really strong person to be able to work with children of tragedies & I applaud them all!!!!!

  48. Bella says:

    This is so devastating WE all need to get together and see what can be done to stop this insanity.I have no words for all those parents who will never be same for the rest off they life.I will pray to GOD to give theme the strenght to help theme.AMEN

  49. Jennifer Hatfield says:

    Thank you for this post. I was asking myself Friday what I was going to tell my children. My heart breaks for the parents and loved ones of those beautiful children.

  50. Joanne R says:

    Living in CT, we have been inundated with the news and tragedy. The advice that you have given is so good. Every heart is breaking with the deaths of these individuals. Such heartache!

  51. Bill Elliott says:

    Trying to explain this to my Grandchildren is one of the hardest things I have had to do. But making them aware of their surroundings and how to react is becoming a must in today’s society. Thank you for the great post.

  52. lana says:

    this is so important to be able to talk to your children so they understand

  53. Jennifer Kreisler says:

    I just had to talk with my 3 yr old about our dog dying. This is always a difficult thing to broach. He doesn’t know anything about the CT shootings…. that would be near impossible at this age.

  54. She says:

    Being a grandparent this is a hard subject. You must tell them to warn them what to do in an emergency without scaring them. The suspect was a kid himself with problems he couldn’t deal with, which does not justify his actions however, depending on age and maturity I feel a parents decision to tell a younger child should be weighed on his/her ability to understand and handle the news.
    I feel for the parents of these lost children and hope that admist all this mess we can learn to recognize mental health issues early.

  55. Jane Ritz says:

    Death is a very hard subject for children.I had to talk to my grandson about the Connecticut tragedy. His parents took him to a vigil in our town. The news on 3 channels focused on him because of his age. His parents refused to let them talk to him thank goodness.

  56. Carla Bonesteel says:

    My cousin had to find a way to talk to her 8 year old, before she went to school and heard about Newtown…it was very difficult, but fortunately, the girl is very mature and smart, and she was able to process it. I think it was harder on my cousin, than on her daughter..

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