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Talking to Children & Teens About Tragedy

Call 988 for crisis help and support

Help Children Cope: The Two Most Important Things You Can Do

  1. Reassure: Provide your children with reassurance and attention. Young children especially need an increase in hugs and cuddling, in addition to verbal support.
  2. Allow Emotional Expression: Encourage your children to freely talk about the event by asking simple questions such as, “How does what you see on TV make you feel on the inside? Are you scared? Do you feel sad? What could I do to help you feel safe?” Understand that some children are more willing to express their emotions through play, artwork, or writing.

Other Things You Can Do

Allow Questions—Allow children to ask as many questions as they would like. Answer honestly, but do not dwell on frightening details or allow those details to dominate family time. Make sure that your answers are easy to understand and age appropriate. Do not share information with the child that is age inappropriate or would further traumatize them due to their inability to fully understand the significance of the event.

Monitor Exposure—Take charge of how often your children are exposed to news reports or conversations surrounding tragic events. If you feel it is age appropriate for your child to be aware of this information, be present while they are watching or listening. This is a prime time for asking and answering questions as well as an opportunity to see in their reactions how they have been affected by the event.

Identify the Positive—Help children identify the positive things happening surrounding this tragic event. Discuss the heroic acts of medical personnel, neighbors, and others involved. Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about service, teamwork, and resiliency.

Maintain Routine—Children like predictability and stability. Continue to provide children with their typical structure and encourage physical activity. You may need to temporarily reduce your expectations regarding their home or school responsibilities, but promote continued participation in the typical daily routine.

Seek Mental Health Services—Sometimes you will need to seek additional help to assist your child through this traumatic event. If the negative symptoms surrounding the tragedy increase in duration, intensity, or frequency or if the child’s daily living continues to be negatively impacted by their symptoms, seek counseling services. It is important to recognize that you may also benefit from mental health services. The greatest determining factor of your child’s mental health is your own mental stability. Take care of you so you can more effectively take care of them.

National Mental Health Services Locator: 1-800-789-2647

Child & Teenage Stress Symptoms

These may occur directly following the even or week to months after.

Preschool & Early Childhood

  • Withdrawal
  • Hyperactivity
  • Sharing exaggerated stories of event
  • Talking frequently about the event
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Clinging to parents
  • Acting out when at play
  • Increase in disobedience and/or aggression
  • Decline in school performance
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Age regressing behavior (such as bed wetting, sucking thumb)
  • Nightmares or increased childhood fears

Early Adolescence

  • Physical complaints
  • Abandoning chores & other responsibilities
  • Participation in high-risk behaviors (such as substance abuse, and the like)

Later Adolescence

  • Denial that the event affects them
  • Feelings of helplessness and/or guilt