Talking To Children About Tragedy

Lana DunnChildren & Youth Issues0 Comments

sad teenager looking through car window

The recent tragedy in Las Vegas dominated the news, the water cooler talk, the social media feeds. As the events unfolded, and in the days following, I thought often of what to tell my children, how to ensure I didn’t scare them, and how to make sure they received correct information from a trusted source. I suspect I am not the only one, so here are a few tips on how to help children and youth understand and deal with this type of information that is sadly becoming all too common.

  1. Monitor their social media

Today’s world provides us with information 24/7 at our finger tips. It can be a tremendous gift and wonderful tool, but it can also be trouble. I believe parents have an obligation to ensure that children are using social media in responsible and appropriate ways. In cases of tragic events, children and youth can be overwhelmed by the amount of information they are exposed to (this is true for adults as well). Make sure they are able to have breaks from the constant barrage of information, and become discerning consumers of news stories. Help them to know what is real, what is sensationalized, and when it is time to turn it off or turn away.

  1. Consider developmental stages

Young children may not even need to know about world events. Unless there is a strong likelihood of the information impacting their daily lives, it is better to ensure you don’t have the news on when they are present. It is okay to protect and buffer them from some of the harsh realities of life. School aged children talk with other children, and therefore may in fact hear what has happened on the playground or lunchroom. A simple message is all they need: “someone hurt a lot of people at a concert. Some of those people died. The man who hurt them also died.” Simple, clear, and direct without being too detailed. Older youth may in fact speak about the incident in their classroom as a current events discussion. It might be useful to talk to them about the social and political issues the incident raises. The key is to know your child, and to be able to frame the messages you decide to share with them in such a way as to minimize the fear and anxiety they may experience.

  1. Be honest and direct

Be careful of false reassurances: “This can never ever happen to us, our family will always be safe.” We may want to say that, but can we know that is true? Let the children take the lead and ask the questions they have, while you respond truthfully. “Can something like this happen here?” may be answered by speaking about the community you live in, the role of law enforcement, personal safety reminders about walking home with friends, or even a chat about why it is we have our backpacks checked when we go to hockey games or other events.

  1. Take care of your own worries and notice your anxiety

Tragedies such as this and so many others can make our sense of safety and well being feel threatened. Children and youth look to the adults in their lives as the role models for how to cope with world events. Maintaining your own mental health is crucial. Self care becomes a priority, talking to others, having a time and a place to feel afraid and worried that is away from your children is important. Think of the captain of a ship. During a storm, those on board look to the captain to know whether or not there is danger present. Captains who remain calm and in control instill a sense of safety and security in others. You are the captain your children are looking to. Let them know the ship is okay.

  1. Be sure to continue to enjoy life

Incidents like Las Vegas and others stop us in our tracks. They remind us of our mortality, and of the changing nature of the world we live in. Yet we cannot allow our lives to be defined by these types of events. We need to continue to help our children, and ourselves, enjoy life. Staying connected to friends and family, engaging in school and extra curricular activities, planning for the future – these are the ways we make a life. It is important that we help our children to continue to live their lives no matter what is happening around us.

We are living in challenging times. Anxiety levels can run high as we navigate our environment. It remains important that children and youth are protected as much as possible. Somehow, in the midst of it all, life goes on. May we all be healthy and well.

Lana Dunn, M.Ed., R.Psych, CEC
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.

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