How to Talk with Kids About Tragedy

by Sherianna Boyle January 25, 2024

mother holding child

As I watched the coverage on a recent shooting my eight-year-old played outside in our yard. Inside, my 16-year-old daughter and I sat on the couch together, stunned by what we were hearing.

The news is not something we normally watch together, however I figured it was better for her to be exposed to what was happening with me nearby rather than alone in her room on social media. I must confess the shocking details left me speechless. What I have learned is when it comes to fear you really can’t make sense of it all so you might as well quit trying and choose to focus on love.

The next day, I wasn’t sure whether to tell my eight year what had occurred. Hearing the report quickly come over the news radio on the ride to school and then seeing it again splattered on the front page of the newspaper of the little store we popped in to purchase a drink on the way to school changed my mind. Fortunately, I had had some prior experience after 9/11 as I was hired to put together a quick workshop on how to support families and children through a crisis. So keeping the key points below in mind, I decided to broach the subject:

1 | Development first

If your child is under school age it is not necessary to discuss worldly events. With that said, be genuine about your emotions as even the little ones can be quite keen at picking up changes in your mood. For example, you might say, Mommy, is feeling a little sad today about something that has nothing to do with you. I will be okay, it is healthy to be sad sometimes. If you find your sadness continues or is uncontrollable you may want to seek support or take some time for yourself to digest your feelings. Sometimes world events can trigger grief and sadness we have experienced in our own lives.

2 | Be brief and factual

If your child is school-aged it is likely they will be exposed in one way or another. Prepare your child by taking a quiet moment to let them know they may hear people talking about some violence that happened in the world. Let them know some people were hurt, however many more were there to help and heal. Also, be clear these situations are extreme and do not happen often. They are sad, but police, fire, and other support people learn a lot from them and very often changes are made for the greater good because of it.

3 | Keep the door open

Once you have this conversation with your child, be sure to check in and keep the lines of communication open. When it comes to teens, they are forming their opinion about the world and in many ways are looking for a means to promote change. Be sure to check in and ask them what they heard, if they have any questions, how they feel, and what their thoughts are about the situation.

This is also a time to teach respect other people’s views. For example, some people may say they want more gun control while others have another way to see it. This is an opportunity to teach your teen about tolerance and acceptance. Give them healthy ways of going about pursuing positive change. Watch your statements and be careful about getting on a soapbox. Know love will take them farther than fear (judgment) ever will.

4 | Reassurance

Provide reassurance by discussing the choices you make daily to keep yourself safe. For example, wearing a seatbelt or a helmet, not texting and driving, letting people know when you sense something is wrong or harmful and taking time for yourself so you are able to listen to your inner guidance.

Finally, we cannot be afraid to talk about death with our children. It is times like this when our faith can be our greatest ally. Faith gives you and your children comfort and trust. With that said, know that love does not belong to a particular religion. It is a free resource available to all. The more we tap into it and focus on love the more present it will be in all of our lives.

Sherianna Boyle


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