How to talk to kids about tragedy
An elementary school in Texas. A high school shooting in Michigan. The largest massacre in US history in Las Vegas. The shooting at Columbine. Mass shootings in public places. The war in Ukraine. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Irma and Harvey. The Tornadoes of Moore, Oklahoma. The school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The terrorist attack on 911. The terrorist attack in Paris, France. The mass shooting in Orlando. All terrible tragedies, and if your child has heard about these events, you may be wondering how to talk to your kids about tragedy.
With social media such a huge part of our life now, events like this are widely publicized. You are hardly able to turn on the TV or read through a Facebook feed without seeing reports. Many of our kids will see reports or at the very least hear about the kids recently killed in Texas.
While we may do our best to shield our kids from horrible events, the truth is, many will find out. We homeschool our daughter, so it may be easier for me to keep bad news like this from her, but for others it is not so easy. The question becomes: How do we talk to kids about tragedy?
My advice? How will I handle these conversations? I am not totally sure, but here are a few things I think—-
- Be honest—I don’t have all the answers.
- Comfort—This was an isolated event: yes, we are hearing a lot about it at the moment, but this event is not common, and not necessarily something we need to worry about happening again, or happening near us or to us
- Listen— By listening you will know where to take the conversation to help deal with their feelings.
- Ask them how they feel– Depending on their age, they may or may not be able to express the way they feel. By asking, you are opening a door for them to share with you.
- Pray—Pray for not only the our safety and fear, our friends and family, and also pray for those affected by the horrible event.
- Turn off the TV— You may not be able to keep your kids from hearing about the news, but you can do your part and not feed their fears
- Answer their questions— Whether you share info or not, it is likely your kids will hear about tragic events from somewhere. Find out what they know, and answer any questions they may have. If you don’t they will seek answers on their own.
One thing I learned through some recent events (and a podcast I recorded with some experts about talking to kids about tragedy) is that kids process things differently than adults. To many kids, the tragedy is just something that happened—it is bad, people were hurt or lost their life, but after mentioning what they know of the situation, they are ready to move on with their day. It would be easy for me to make a big deal out of the event, but in the eyes of a child, they can sometimes deal and process, and then move on. The same goes for other natural disasters, horrible shootings and terrorist attacks. If we choose to make a big deal about them, then of course they will make a big deal about them. But if we choose to limit our conversation and reaction in front of our kids, it is possible that they hear about it and move on, because they see you do the same (even if you really don’t move on, for the sake of your kids don’t let them see you react– it could scare them even more)
For sure I don’t have all the answers, but here is a list of resources I found that can help you talk to your kids when tragedy strikes. I will continue to update the list as I find more resources. Some articles reference other tragic events, but the advice is relevant to any type of tragedy.
Resources to help you talk to your kids about recent tragic events in the news
- Special Kids Ministry Collective podcast. Tom and I had the privilege of interviewing Linda Ranson Jacobs and Wayne Stocks about how to talk to our kids about tragedy. The nice thing about the podcast is that it is not event specific, and the advice holds true for any tragic event. We talked about different age appropriate discussions, as well as different perspectives (parents, teachers, kids workers). You can listen or download the episode here.
- Pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof shares tips to help guide your conversations
- Author, Speaker, Trainer, child specialist Linda Ranson Jacobs writes a post on how to talk to your children. Click here to read (the article references a school shooting, but the advice still applies)
- As an Oklahoma native, Linda shares more advice on having conversations with your kids.
- PBS provides some suggestions on how to help your kids deal with tragic news
- Words of Wisdom from Mr Rogers on talking to your kids about tragic events
- Focus on the Family has an article about talking to your kids about mass shootings
- Sesame Street has some advice based on the age of your children. Helping Families After an Emergency
- Children’s ministry leader Mark Harper shares some great advice for parents and teachers, as well as age appropriate responses
- Dr Scott Turansky from the National Center for Biblical Parenting shares 8 steps to talking to your kids, and also includes what emotions they may experience and advice on how to help them through their feelings.
- Common Sense Media shares some suggestions on talking to your kids about school shootings
- Children’s ministry leader Dale Hudson shares some great wisdom, as well as a letter he handed out after a school shooting. The advice applies to all tragic events.
- NPR shares ways to ease your child’s anxiety about attending school after tragic events in the news.
- Today shares suggestions of what conversation to have based on age of your child
- The Gospel Coalition shares 4 points to help your conversations with your kids about mass shootings.
Whatever you do, hug your kids a little longer tonight, say an extra prayer for your kids tonight, and remember to pray for all those affected by the recent tragic events.
How do you talk to your kids about tragedy? Do you know of other resources?