Many adults learn to cope with tragic news and events to a certain extent but when a child becomes exposed to something hitting the headlines like a natural disaster or a mass shooting it can sometimes have a profound effect on their young minds and create strong feelings of emotional distress.
It would be a good idea to have a strategy prepared for talking to children and young adults about tragedies and how they can affect your emotions.
Here is a look at how to approach the subject and talk through difficult events with children and teens. Including an insight into how to start such a difficult conversation, why honesty is the best policy, and how to spot the signs of physical as well as emotional distress.
It’s Good to Talk
If you notice that your child has been affected by a recent tragic event that doesn’t have an impact on your family directly but is something distressing regardless of that fact, it can help to talk through the details in an appropriate way.
There are a number of valid reasons why you should consider talking to your child about a distressing story, especially if they have been exposed to the details and are struggling to process the information.
Talking to your child about a recent and much-publicized tragedy can help them gain a better comprehension of what has happened, and should help give them the comfort and reassurance they might be seeking in order to cope better emotionally.
It is also better to talk to your child about these events yourself rather than them hearing the details from another source, who might not be so careful with how they present the facts in an age-appropriate way.
As you will find out from someone like Abels & Annes, PC, car accidents, and other unfortunate events happen on a daily basis, and it is only natural that a child will have some questions to ask about certain tragic events, whether they are directly impacted by what has happened or not.
Picking your moment to talk to your child can be the tricky part, but you will know their behavioral cues and times when they are most likely to share what is on their mind.
If you all sit down for tea and talk about the events of the day, that can be the opportunity to ask what your child has heard or already knows about the tragedy. Let your child’s questions, concerns, and answers provide you with the lead for where the conversation goes.
Focus on Facts
Honesty is always the best policy and that is definitely the case when you are talking to your child about a tragic event where lots of stories and speculation might be causing greater confusion and anxiety.
The best approach is to tone down your response based on your child’s age so that you give them details that are appropriate to their age that they can process the information without being overwhelmed.
Pay close attention to what you child is saying about the event and aim to correct any misinformation and inaccuracies they seem to have accepted as fact. Focusing on the basics and tell the truth about what has happened and why will often help to reassure them.
As a general guide, preschool children will seek more physical comfort and hugs are a good idea to accompany a basic explanation that is delivered with a calming voice. The older your children are the more questions they are likely to have and it is highly likely that they will also have an opinion that they want to share about the event.
It is also important to look out for any physical signs that your child has been affected by a tragic event.
It can often be the case with pre-school children that they can suffer a physical reaction as a result of being affected by a traumatic situation. This could result in a bout of bed-wetting, disrupted sleep pattern, or even complain about having headaches or suffering from cramp.
If they are demonstrating a reluctance to go to school or misbehaving unexpectedly, these are also signs that your preschool child might be feeling afraid and anxious.
If you have a younger child who has been affected in some way by a tragic event or situation you will need to keep any eye on their behavior and provide them with as much emotional and physical support they need to cope with the distress they are experiencing.
It is a difficult situation for children and adults alike when personal tragedy strikes or you are affected by a traumatic event, but it pays to remember that it’s perfectly normal to experience a range of emotions and reactions and you will get through it together with love and support.
Kate Addams works as a therapist helping people to deal with death and trauma, letting them know that they will get through this time in their life and come out stronger the other side.