6 Tips When Talking to Kids About Tragic Events in the News

Tips to help parents make kids feel safe and protected after a tragedy occurs

mother comforting child

As parents and caregivers, it is our role to protect our children and teach them about the world. So, what should parents and caregivers tell kids when tragic events occur? How can parents comfort kids when they also feel scared and lost?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents, teachers and child care providers to filter information about the tragedy and present it in a way that their child can understand and cope with.

Find Out What Your Child Already Knows

Before you tell a child about a tragic event, ask them what they have heard. If children watch TV or see newspapers, they probably have seen some graphic images. Before exposing them to more information then necessary, figure out what they have already seen or heard.

Limit Exposure to Media

It is best avoid any graphic or unnecessary details and only share basic details. Children want to be able to understand enough so they know what’s going on. Keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, social media, computers, etc.

Don't Be Too Vague

Even the youngest child needs accurate information, but you don’t want to be too vague. Be specific enough that the child can understand why a large tragic event is in the news and why it is different than people getting hurt everyday. For young children, it is important to answer their questions but not provide extra information.

Talk About the Helpers

When a tragedy happens, a touching and meaningful quote from Mister Rogers always comes to mind:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

Another beautiful example of a parent helping a child feel safe is a video of a father and son in Paris discussed the Paris attack of 2015. A father explained to his young son that the flowers and candles brought to memorial services are to protect people and to fight against the guns. This dad helped him son feel safe by focusing on the positive and discussing the tragedy in age-appropriate terms.

Foster Safety and Support

The most important message for a parent to convey to young children is, “It’s okay if these things upset or confuse you. We are here to support each other.” Young children are seeking reassurance that they are safe and the people around them are safe. Give extra hugs, read more books and pay attention to your kids a bit more following a tragedy. Kids are seeking reassurance and it is our job as parents to foster security during a difficult time.

Keep Your Child's Routine

Routine and consistency are important for kids to feel safe. During a tragedy, it is important to keep children in their routine. This is the best way to assure them they are safe and protected.

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