Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Tragic World Events - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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Published on June 14, 2016

Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Tragic World Events

Children will undoubtedly find out about the world's tragic events, so it's helpful if information about them comes from you.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these guidelines for talking to children about a world tragedy:

  • Explain the event in basic detail, but don't include graphic images or descriptions. Provide enough information without being overly frightening.
  • Make sure your child understands that it's okay to be concerned and upset, and offer support and comfort.
  • Reassure children that officials are doing their jobs and taking care of people.

How Children React to Tragedy

It’s important to recognize that your response to your children about a tragic event will depend on their age.

"Very small children in the early toddler years will likely not understand any of this," says Margaret Hennessy, MD, pediatrician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group - All Saints. "They should not be watching the news reports and are likely unaware of what happened."

Dr. Hennessy adds, "According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, television is not recommended for children under two years of age. This is even more important when the news stories interrupt normal programming. Little ones may pick up on a parent being upset and crying. This may alarm them. There is no need to explain why you are sad, but certainly reveal that you are sad and you are going to be ok. Share that it is ok to cry when you are sad."

Older children and teens will likely hear about what happened on the Internet or  through social media.

"I would recommend being more straightforward about the situation and ask them what they are thinking," Dr. Hennessy says. "Find out what they know. See if you can correct any misinformation that they may have. You may also notice some behavior changes in your young adult."

Michael Cichy, PhD, psychologist with Wheaton Franciscan Behavioral Health, says that children, especially pre-schoolers or children in early elementary school, may react in non-verbal ways.

“Numbness, denial, panic, anger, measurable changes in play tendencies, eating and sleeping habits, and physical illness are variations in a child’s toolbox of non-verbal expression of emotional pain,” Dr. Cichy says. “It is important that we understand that mourning and sadness are appropriate emotional experiences for people of all ages, and we need to remember children are people.”

How to Handle Feelings Constructively

It's ok for adults to show emotions during times of tragedy, and you can show your children how you handle these feelings in a constructive way. Here are some ideas:

  • Help children draw pictures or write down ideas.
  • If you believe in prayer, pray as a family.
  • Talk about what good you can do for others around you.
  • Empower your child to feel that they can make this world a better place.
  • Show your children how people help out other people who are hurting or in need.
  • Find out if there are things that you can do for those who are directly impacted by the tragedy.

We will all face bad things in our lives, and it's important to find ways to cope with them. The pain will lessen no matter how close we are to the event. There is still good in this world. The most important thing is to help your child discover that.

What to Do if Your Child is Struggling

If these tips don't help and fear begins to interfere with your child's ability to go to school, to play at a friend’s house, to enjoy activities or to function at home, it's important to seek assistance from a mental health professional or talk with your child's doctor.

Wheaton Franciscan Behavioral Health experts are here to help. Learn more about our mental health services and how to contact us.

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Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Tragic World Events