Talking to Your Kids About Tragedies

I was raised by overly protective parents, and I vowed that I would NEVER shelter my kids the way my parents sheltered me. Nope! No way! Go free, children, and live your lives unfiltered in the wild.

Of course I said that before having kids … along with a lot of other nonsense that would be laughable to a seasoned mom, like “my baby will ALWAYS sleep in her crib.” Now I’m even MORE protective of my kids than my parents were of me. If I could put them in a tiny bubble away from the hurts of the world, I would do it in a heartbeat, just to keep them safe forever. A mom can dream.

The number of tragedies that have already happened in their short little lives is astounding to me. These conversations we’ve had to have about guns and bombs, coupled with a real-life bomb threat at their very own school, has already made them almost jaded and numb to these repeated discussions.

I won’t tell you that my strategies for discussing tragedies are the best. There are certainly other ways to have these hard talks. This is what worked for me.

Try to Limit Exposure

When I go to someone’s house that has the news running constantly in the background, I feel my blood pressure rising. I can’t even imagine the overwhelming burden of processing it all as a kid, when I’m struggling with it this much as an adult.

While being informed is important, there is such a thing as too much information. I try to share the overall story with my kids, but keep it to the basic facts and on their level, doing my best not to spill the shocking details of the story while still being as honest as I can about how these tragedies have impacted people.

Know Your Child’s Personality

Confession time! I’m a HSP (highly sensitive person). I have ALL THE FEELINGS ALL THE TIME. I have learned that seeing something visually triggers an emotional response to tragedies, which can be draining. I fixate on it. So instead of watching the news, I listen to news radio in the mornings while I’m getting ready and try to keep it limited to one hour a day.

Figure out what news format works best for your kids. Do they want to read a quick article? Would listening to the radio and not seeing any images be a better fit? Or what about letting them watch CNN for a half hour? As an HSP raising HSP’s, we all prefer having dinner table talks and listening to the radio. Tuning into what works best for your child can be an enormous help as they learn to process their emotions.

Realistically Reassure Them

“Everything is okay. This is never going to happen again.” That’s probably not the wisest thing to tell your kids, because the sad reality is that it could very well happen again. But what you can say is something like, “I love you, and I know this is all very sad/scary/awful/heartbreaking/angering. I will always try to keep you safe because you are special to me. I am here if you want to talk about this. You can ask me anything, and I will try to be honest with you.”

Once you’ve figured out how to talk to your kids about tragedies, think about taking action. Have them send cards, help with donations, craft a gift, pray or make a lemonade stand for the cause. Come up with an actionable way for them to be part of the solution. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough to just be sad, scared or angry. Tragedies can make us all feel helpless, but taking action shows your kids that there IS something they can do to help. It’s a great lesson in empathy … and the world could always use more of that.

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