How to Talk to Kids about Traumatic Events

Everyone, including adults, feel stressed during times of crisis and uncertainty. What can parents and teachers do when kids encounter traumatic events? For most children, adults can provide adequate support in the following ways:

  • Limit television and internet viewing. The media will provide useful information in the days ahead, but parents should monitor what is viewed to make sure that it is age appropriate. Also, parents should discuss with children what they view and give them an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Acknowledge children’s feelings. Knowing what to say is often difficult. When no other words come to mind, a hug and saying, “this is really hard for you/us,” will work.

Other Tips:

  • Keep adult issues from overwhelming children. Don’t let your children focus too much of their time or energy on this crisis.
  • Reassure children that they are safe and so are the important adults in their lives.
  • Maintain a normal routine and spend time with your children. This is important during any time of generalized stress and may continue to be so over the coming weeks if anxiety grows.
  • Let children know that it is okay to feel upset. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy like this occurs. It is normal to feel sad or unsure when someone dies. It is also normal not to feel strongly about people you don’t know. Let children talk about their feelings and help put them into perspective.
  • Emphasize people’s resiliency. Focus on the children’s competencies in terms of their daily life.
  • Look for children at greater risk. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or have special needs, may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others.
  • Observe children’s reactions to ongoing events. Provide opportunities and create an atmosphere in which children feel comfortable expressing their concerns and ideas and asking for help if they need it.

This information was obtained through the National Association of School Psychologists website.