Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

Many parents are struggling to know how to talk about the Newtown, CT shootings with their children. As parents, we frequently feel inadequate in providing for our children's needs but events like these truly leave us at a loss. Below are a few suggestions to help equip parents to talk about tragic events with their children:

  1. Listen Give your child the space and time to ask questions and process out loud. For younger children (preschool), follow their lead in the discussion. Many children this age may be totally unaware of the events. If so, it is not necessary to talk with them about it. Older children in elementary and above have most likely heard about this on the news, the internet or from their friends. Pick good moments to ask open-ended questions about how they are feeling, what they are thinking, etc. Bedtimes and meal times are good times of the day for checking in with your child.

  2. Answer Answer your child's question directly and honestly. Children don't need a perfect answer, but they do need an honest answer. Listen to what is behind the question but be careful to not overload young children with too much info. And remember that it is always ok to answer with, "I don't know." You can follow up with, "but what I do know is that God loves us and He will help us figure this out."

  3. Maintain routine One of the most important and tangible ways we can help our children feel safe is creating an environment that is predictable. Especially during times of tragedy, daily routines are very important and reassuring to children. Plan some extra "family-time". Fun times together as a family provide comfort and feelings of safety for children.

  4. Be patient All of us process grief in different ways, which often sets relationships up for conflict. Be patient with yourself and your children as you process. Understand that members of your family may be in different stages of grief. Give each other grace to be in whatever stage of grief they are in.

  5. Take care of yourself During times of tragedy and grief, self-care is one of the first things to go, and yet it is crucial to our ability to heal. Make sure you as parents are getting rest, eating well, exercising, and having down time for processing and prayer. Talk to other parents about how they are doing and how they are processing with their children.