Helping Your Child Process Tragic Events: Practical Advice for Parents

In light of the recent tragic events at a Sydney shopping centre, many parents are grappling with how to discuss such distressing news with their children. According to Kids First’s child psychologists, when violence shatters our sense of safety, it’s essential to approach our conversations with children thoughtfully. Here, they offer straightforward strategies so that you can provide support and reassurance to your kids. 

How to talk to your kids about tragic events in the news

Initiate the Conversation

Find out what they know.

Sometimes children absorb what is going on but can’t find the words to express what they are thinking and feeling.

You can start by gently asking your child what they’ve heard about the events. For younger children, you might say, “I heard about something very sad that happened, and I wondered if you had heard people talking about it too?”

For older children, you could ask, “What have you heard about the incident in Sydney? What do you think about it?”

Provide clear, suitable information.

Take care to tailor your explanation to your child’s age and level of understanding:

Ages 4-7: “Something very sad happened where people were hurt. The police and doctors are helping, and it’s important to remember that we are safe.”

Ages 8-14: “There was a serious incident where people were hurt. It’s upsetting, but it’s rare. Police are investigating to keep everyone safe, and it’s okay to talk about any feelings this brings up.”

Child psychologists share ways to talk about tragic news events

Address Their Emotions

Acknowledge their feelings

Let your child know it’s normal to feel upset. You might say, “It’s alright to feel scared or confused. Do you want to talk about what’s on your mind?”

Provide comfort and reassurance

Maintain a calm presence to help your child feel secure. “It’s understandable to be upset. I’m here, and we can talk anytime you feel worried.”

Reinforce Safety

Emphasise security

It is natural to worry that something that has happened near where you live could reoccur close to home. In times like this, younger children commonly worry about this, and so it is important for you to reinforce their personal safety.

You could say, “Our family, your school, and the police are all making sure we’re safe. These kinds of things don’t happen often.”

Stick to routines

Keeping daily life as normal as possible will help your children feel stable. Say things like, “Let’s read our book tonight like we always do. It’s good to keep doing our usual things.”

How to talk to your kids about tragic news events

Encourage Positive Action

Suggest constructive activities

Helping others can restore your child’s sense of control and purpose. Try saying things like, “Would you like to make cards for the helpers, like the police or doctors, to thank them for taking care of everyone?”

Limit exposure to news

Protect your child from graphic details. Instead of having the TV on all the time, consciously manage their exposure by saying something like, “Let’s focus on doing something fun together instead of watching the news right now. How about we play a game?”

Don’t assume it will all end when the news cycle does

Be attentive to their needs

If your child shows ongoing signs of distress in the days, weeks, or even months after a tragic event, consider contacting a professional who is trained to support children.

You can gently suggest this with words like, “If you keep feeling really sad, perhaps we can find someone who can help us talk through these feelings.”

Monitor their behaviour

Changes in behaviour, sleep disturbances, or persistent anxiety about safety are signs that your child may benefit from speaking with a professional.

Continue checking in

Regular conversations help your child process over time. You could say, “Let’s keep talking about how you’re feeling. It’s important to me to know you’re okay.”

Talking to your kids about tragic news events is important

Keep having open and honest conversations with your kids

By approaching the topic with empathy and clarity, you reassure your children that they are safe and their feelings are valid. This not only helps them process the tragedy but also strengthens their ability to cope with future challenges.

Remember, it’s through these honest and open dialogues that we can support our children in understanding and navigating their emotions effectively.

Do your kids need help to navigate events in the news?

If you feel you need additional support, do not hesitate to reach out to our team at Kids First. We are here to help. For personalised guidance and strategies to assist your child in navigating their feelings about tragic news events, our experienced Child Psychologists are just a phone call away. Contact us on (02) 9938 5419)

Learn more about Child and Family Psychology Support at Kids First Children's Services

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