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Addressing Tragedies with Kids

It is almost impossible to prevent your children and teens from seeing the disturbing images and stories on the media and on TV when tragedy strikes. These events can cause fear and anxiety in children and teens and as parents we need to be very diligent to what is going around in our kid’s environment and during TV time. As parents it is imperative that we communicate with our children before they hear about certain events from classmates or other outside sources.

Children may be worry:

  • that the event could happen to themselves or a loved one;
  • that they could be separated from someone they love or be left alone;
  • about their safety or that of their loved ones.

Depending on your child’s age and level of maturity it is important to be uncomplicated in your explanations without going into gory details (especially children under 9 years of age). Make sure to be supportive and reassuring during your explanation and always encourage open discussions.

Discussion Techniques:

  • Be truthful – Children need to understand what is happening around them to feel secure. Provide them with facts about what happened and acknowledge it was a terrible and frightening event. Help them to see that we share their feelings.
  • Encourage any questions – Ensure your child feels as though they can approach you to ask questions as much as they need. Sometimes a child will process a tragic event much later and come back to you again for more discussion. Remind them that questions are welcome.
  • Feelings are normal – Some children may take a while to get over tragic events and that is perfectly normal. Allow them to cry if they need to and show their emotions. Share your feelings about what happened with them. Help your kids to verbalize their feelings with you. Secure them with a warm cuddle and remind them that they are safe. Keep things in perspective and remind them that not all people are harmful towards others.

The content of these dicussions with your children depends on their age but here are some tips gathered from the Child Development Institute:

  • Ensure they feel safe – explain to them that it is a real misfortune what has happened and that we all feel for those people who were there or are experiencing pain.
  • Stay close by and show affection as they desire – give them a hug and reassure them that their world is safe. Keep them among familiar things until they’re feeling more secure, for example family and friends.
  • Allow the children to talk about it and how it has made them feel. Honestly answer their questions and try to put their minds at ease. By not talking about it may make them think it is taboo.
  • Be watchful for behavioral changes – kids who are behaving differently, such as not sleeping at night, feel frightened, don’t want mum to go to work, they want to start sleeping in with you may need some more reassurance, time and talking. If it continues it might be time to seek professional help.
  • For teens – talk with them, listen and ask questions. Stabilise the subject by asking “What are your friends saying about it? How are you feeling?” Make sure they’re receiving the true facts. Tell them you’re there for them.


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