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  • Dr. Jo Ann Unger, C. Psych.

Talking to Kids about Tragic World Events

Updated: May 31

Over the years, after a tragic event takes place in our world, I have often been asked about how we should talk to kids about such difficult things. Whether it be war, discovery of mass graves, hate crimes, or mass shootings, caregivers struggle with how to talk about and support their children when these things happen. It is difficult to hear about the pain and suffering of others and so it is natural to be concerned about how this information will affect our children.

The short answer to this question is check-in with them, be present with their thoughts and feelings, provide them with age-appropriate factual information, give them reassurance and comfort according to their needs, and engage in acts of kindness.

More details are provided below, followed by some helpful resources on this topic.

  1. Check-in with them to see how they are doing. Ask questions and let them have space to talk openly about their feelings and thoughts. Before you engage, make sure that you are calm, regulated, and in a good space to listen so that you can focus on them in that moment. It is normal for all of us to have a range of feelings after hearing about the tragedy of others. If these continue past a few weeks at the same intensity, if might be good to reach out for some extra support.

  2. As you listen, check for any faulty or unrealistic thoughts or fears. When they are done sharing, you can take some time to gently correct and reassure them with information you know and have about the situation or their everyday safety.

  3. Watch for signs of stress, fear and anxiety such as trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite and changes in mood. These are normal reactions in the first few weeks but should subside over time. If they do not, you may want to access additional support.

  4. As a family, find ways to take care of your mental health such as taking news breaks, keeping regular schedules, engaging in physical activity, spending time together. Doing these and other normal things, can restore a sense of security and normalcy.

  5. It can also be helpful to think about what they and you as a family can do to help others who have been affected in a specific situation or other tragedies. Acts of compassion, care and advocacy are helpful to others, when done sensitively, and also to our own sense of well-being.

6. Manage what your child has exposure to in terms of information to make sure it is age

appropriate and not overwhelming. This includes listening to the news and adult

conversation. If they do not fully understand what is being said, they can misunderstand it or

fill in the blanks with faulty information. So, as they may be exposed to more information and

details, you may want to check-in periodically to see how they are managing and coping.

7. If your child is still struggling a number of weeks after the event, consider seeking out

additional support. This could include reaching out to your school's student services team, your pediatrician, Kips Help Phone line, or child centralized intake. Additional resources can

be found on my resources page.


Additional helpful information on this topic can be found below:

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