Emotional and Mental

How To Talk to Kids After Tragedies

Published: May 25, 2022

In the wake of Tuesday’s school shooting in Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers as well as a mass shooting on May 14 at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, it’s important to realize that adults play a significant role in helping children cope after traumatic events. 

One of the most important things adults can do is help children understand and accept their feelings after such an event. The following information is intended to assist you in this effort. However, it’s important that your reaction to the event doesn’t happen in front of children. Make sure to take the necessary time to process your own emotional response before having these conversations.

Additionally, the Methodist Hospital Community Counseling Program provides services for students in each middle school, high school and alternative program in Omaha Public Schools and for members of community at various locations throughout Omaha.

Here are some suggestions on how to open the lines of communication:

  • Enable the child to discuss the tragedy when they’re ready.
  • Talk in an honest, straightforward way to encourage further dialogue.
  • Begin at the child’s level and remember that your attitude is more important than words.
  • Never tell the child that he/she will need to unlearn or “forget about it.”
  • Allow the child to vent their emotions of grief. Anger, tears, despair and protest are all natural reactions. 
  • Encourage the child to discuss their innermost fantasies, fears and feelings. 
  • Remember that the child needs to talk, not be talked to. 
  • Give the child every opportunity to reminisce about the people or places involved, and, if they desire, to express anger as well as affection. 
  • Don’t close the door to doubt, questioning and difference of opinion. Support the child’s efforts to find meaning in a time of acute stress. 

Talking to a child about sadness and loss is often complex and upsetting. Seeking help isn’t an admission of weakness, but a demonstration of strength and love. The real challenge isn’t how to explain tragedies to a child, but how to understand and make peace with it yourself. 

Children may need extra help when they: 

  • Stay withdrawn from family and friends for long periods 
  • Develop patterns of aggressive behavior
  • Experience persistent anxiety 
  • Are accident-prone or try to reenact an event 
  • Act as if nothing has happened or even appear happier than normal 
  • Demonstrate unusual or persistent poor performance at school 
  • Have somatic complaints, feelings of pain or frequent illness 

When thinking about discussing the events that took place, remember to consider the age of the children you’re with. For example, it may be helpful to present the situation in a simple sentence for a young child. But for older children, it could be best if you allow them to first share what they already know.

It might also be wise to limit the amount of time you spend watching or listening to the news with children. Excess information about the tragedy may lead to confusion or fear.
Try to reassure children that while tragedies occur, schools have safety plans in place

And it’s important to stick to normal routines, including engaging in physical activities, maintaining normal sleep schedules and keeping up with their studies.
Best Care EAP’s caring and professional counselors are available to help you and your family manage difficult situations. 

To schedule your confidential appointment, call (402) 354-8000 or (800) 801-4182, or send a message here.