Parenting: Not Always a Walk In The Park, Talking to Your Children After A Tragic Event

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July, 2016

There are times when the innocence of childhood is interrupted. National disasters and tragic events viewed by children on TV or online, are just such interruptions. A new reality for parents is the need to talk with children about domestic or international crisis events happening in our world. Parents are challenged to address the new reality of seemingly random shootings and bombings: during a marathon, in schools and movie theatres, at shopping centers, office buildings and airports.  

Making sense of worldwide violent events and hugely distressing life situations is more-than-difficult for any adult. Think about how a child must struggle to make sense of these situations.

Harold Koplewicz, MD; President of the Child Mind Institute, recommends talking to children in an honest, direct manner about tragic events, “Parents should convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.” He reminds parents it is likely your child will first hear about a crisis event from a friend or view the news on social media or television, making immediate conversations even more key.

Don’t worry about your words, you know your child and will find the best way to have these difficult conversations. It’s likely you won’t have all the answers to their questions. Sometimes it’s most helpful to tell a child, “I don’t know,” or “I’ll try to find out.” Do keep in mind the age of your child and address any concerns in a developmentally appropriate way. Talking with an eight-year-old will be different from talking with a seventeen-year-old. Follow cues from your child, ask how they heard about the tragedy and what they are feeling; validate their concerns, and continue to follow your normal routines around mealtimes, homework, chores and bedtime. Remember to model calm behavior and reassure your child that they are safe.

Additional information for talking with your child after a tragedy:

The American Association of Marriage/Family Therapists provides helpful tips for talking to children during times of crisis on their website:  http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/Press_Info/crisis_parenting.aspx

CNN posted this information for parents after the Orlando shooting which includes turning off the TV:

http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/16/health/talking-to-kids-tragic-events-advice-parents/

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers excellent information for parents on how to talk with children about disasters:

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Talking-To-Children-About-Tragedies-and-Other-News-Events.aspx

To access C-SEAP services, call 303-866-4314 or 1-800-821-8154 or visit our website: www.colorado.gov/cseap. C-SEAP has offices located throughout the state in: Denver, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Durango, Alamosa, Sterling, Grand Junction, Canon City, and Loveland.

Written by:

Linda Pounds, Licensed Marriage/Family Therapist

Manager, State Managerial EI Coaching Program