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How To Talk To Your Kids When Tragedy Strikes

As parents we are sometimes put in the position of talking to our kids about difficult issues when we ourselves are not necessarily comfortable with these topics. On the heels of the Colorado shooting last night I thought I’d offer up 6 tips to help parents talk to their kids about tragedy.

1. Ask Questions

Don’t assume you know how your child feels.  Parents are notorious for projecting their own feelings onto their kids.  Ask them lots of questions like what they heard, how it made them feel and if they have any questions for you.

2. Encourage Them To Express Their Feelings

Don’t stifle their emotions.  It’s healthy for them to express how they feel.  If your child has difficulty with this then help them find the words to label what they are feeling.  You can say things like “it sounds like you are sad” and then wait for a response before jumping in.  Download a feelings list online if you need help.

3.Normalize Their Feelings

Once you know how they feel it’s important to tell them that what they are feeling is perfectly normal and that most people feel exactly the same way.

4. Reassure Them Of Their Safety

Even if it feels like a lie, it’s important to help them reclaim a sense of security.  Tell them that the government, law enforcement or whomever is doing everything to ensure their safety.

5. Take Action

Whether it be donating to a relief fund or drawing pictures and writing letters to victims, help your child take action.  This helps move them from feeling like helpless bystanders to actively helping.  This is very empowering!  A few years ago a neighbor of ours lost their home and all their belongings in a terrible fire.  Rather than feel sad and helpless my kids and I gathered up clothing, toys and sporting equipment for the family and donated it to them.  Needless to say this made everyone involved feel so much better.

6. Use It As An Opportunity to Teach

Depending on the tragedy it’s an opportunity to talk to your kids about their own safety.  tell them that although most people are nice and kind there are people who may look safe but may not be safe.  Remind them to trust their instincts and that if they see something suspicious to tell a trusted adult and if that adult doesn’t listen to find an adult who will. Speaking up can help prevent a tragedy.

Judi Willard

Licensed Psychotherapist




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