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5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Tragedy

Between the bombing and manhunt in Boston and the explosion in nearby West, we’re exhausted. It’s been a tough and tiring week for our country and our state, and as parents it can be tough and tiring to keep up with events yourself without exposing your family to too many frightening images. How do we acknowledge the bad stuff happening around us without deluging our kids – and ourselves? Dr. Wendy Middlemiss, associate professor of educational psychology at UNT, offers the following tips for discussing (or not discussing) difficult events with your children.
1. Guide children away from news reports and discussions of the bombing, gun battle, explosion and other related violent and distressing images. Exposure to these images can be as distressing as witnessing them in person, and for young children, it is hard to process and understand these events. It is hard even for adolescents and adults.
2. Assure children of their safety. Events such as this make it clear that there are times when unforeseen events can occur and cause great trauma. However, it is important to assure children of their general safety and the unusual nature of such events. Assure them that you are with them, and will be with them and that you will do everything to keep them safe. Point to the normal routines and their safety.
3. For adolescents, discuss the bombing, explosion and related issues. In your conversation, discuss the general safety of everyday routines; help them process the events that occurred, the tragedies related to these events and the fear that can result.
4. Ask questions and give clear, simple, but real answers. All children will have some exposure to the events. Ask children what they think; give them time to ask questions. Do so now as things are unfolding, but also remember to ask later as time goes by.
5. Watch your children, no matter their age. Be sensitive to any changes. With changes, be sure to ask questions. Let children and adolescents know that whatever they are feeling is OK. Help them understand and work through how they feel – whether frightened, angry, confused or scared.