Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy

I wrote the below article exactly 5 years and 2 days ago after the Manchester bombing at an Arianna Grande concert. I was blogging a lot at the time about child development, and wanted to share what the experts advised we parents do when these tragedies occur. 

I wrote, “I am so glad my daughter is only 19 months, and I don’t have to talk to her about events like this, yet… It’s only a matter of time.” 

Well, here we are. Another tragedy. Another tragedy involving children. Exactly 5 years later I have another 19-month-old, but also an amazing six-year-old who just finished Kindergarten today. I never thought I’d have to take own advice to talk to her about such a devastating tragedy, the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX. 

If your big momma heart is broken like mine is, I encourage you to read this, talk to your kids and take the time to create a calm and loving home for them this summer because the world is just hard right now. 

Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy May 23, 2017

“I am so glad my daughter is only 19 months so that I don’t have to talk to her about events like the Manchester bombing… yet. It’s only a matter of time. The reality is that terrorist attacks, shootings, and other tragedies will continue to occur in this World. I, for one, am so glad to see experts and organizations coming together to provide resources for us parents, educators, and caregivers to know how to talk to our children about these horrible events. 

Since the terrorist attack last night, I have seen several resources addressing how we approach our children in times like these. (This is likely because the attack was at an Ariana Grande concert where the crowd was, sadly, full of children and families.) Every resource I have seen says it is important for parents to talk to their children about these events, as opposed to trying to shield or protect them from becoming aware of them. The article How Should We Talk to Our Children About Terrorism states, “If you think as a parent you’ve done a really good job in shielding your child, you’re doing them a disservice because they’re going to go into school, they’re going to be talking about it on the playground, in the lunch hall, and they’re going to be getting information second, third and fourth hand.” I work in schools around children every day, and it’s true that no matter how much we try to shield our children, they talk, they know. I would rather make sure my child is getting accurate information from me than embellished stories from others. 

In addition, according to Psychologist Emma Kenny, very young children are likely to be put at ease with reassurance from their parents, so they will commonly approach their parents about such events to try to make sense of them, and to feel safe. But, older kids, who may have heard about events from peers or social media, might not even tell their parents they are aware of such happenings. This is why it’s important for parents to start the conversations about issues like these, and use them as opportunities for bonding and relationship building.

Not talking is not a good approach, according to the experts. Below are some strategies that will help:

Tell the Truth: Make sure you are presenting facts. According to editor-in-chief of First News, Nicky Cox, there’s absolutely no reason not to tell them the truth because they are going to hear all sorts of misinformation if they’re on the internet or they’re just talking at school. Make sure they know that you are providing them with accurate information they can trust.

Do a reality check. I personally have to do this to remind myself that yes, these events are occurring more often, but they are still rare. The article, Advice if You’re Upset by the News provides a great video for children reminding them that worrying stories are in the news because they don’t happen often. 

Use Statistics. Dr. Kenny reminds us that we are more likely to die from falling out of our bed than from a terrorist attack. She says to ask your child, “In all the years you’ve been here, how many times has that occurred for you, how many times have you been involved in it?”

Point Out the Positives. The media will cover stories like this from every angle they can. One of those angles is usually showing how people come together in times like these. Videos and articles are full of acts of heroism, too. Discuss these with your kids. Dr. Kenny adds, “When you look at what happened yesterday, it was full of people running towards that attack to help, not people running away to save themselves.”

Limit Exposure. Again, the media will cover these stories from all angles, but that doesn’t mean we need to watch or read all of them. Turn it off.

Get Happy Again. Experts recommend doing things with your children that they enjoy to get their mind off the situation, and to get those endorphins flowing.