How to talk to children about violence, tragedy

Parent holding child's hand

Image source: Thinkstock

The world is probably no more violent today than hundreds of years ago. But with 24 hour, around-the-clock, globally-televised coverage of violence and tragedies you would surely think so.

What can you do to talk to children about violence and tragedy?

As parents, the best thing you can do to help your children (and yourself) to cope is to be available and willing to discuss these events, give accurate information and express your family values that deal with the issues surrounding the events.

Here are some tips to help:

Encourage discussion about things your children see and hear on TV/radio/internet or school.
Listen to their feelings as they talk and be open about yours. When they see that you are comfortable expressing your concerns, fears and feelings, it breaks down the wall
and lifts the burden of having to face their fears on their own.

Give information at age-appropriate levels and put events into context.
Explain that even though frightening things do happen, most times people go about their day without any harm.

Limit exposure to violence.
Research shows people exposed to violence on the TV, internet and video games feel less safe than those that do not do such activities. Turn off the digital world and go outside and play or read a book or play games together instead. Supervise your child’s exposure to all forms of violence and media.

Reassure your children.
Tell them and show them that they are safe and loved. You can give them options about what to do when they ever feel unsafe when they are not at home — such as go to a trusted adult, a teacher, a friend or policeman.

Stand firm.
Give clear and consistent explanations of your value system. Do not accept behaviors just because “everyone else is doing it.” Explain that your family does not do certain things like bullying or teasing and that certain behaviors are not tolerated in your family. Discipline them in “time-out” or your choice of punishment. But also allow them — once they calm down — to discuss why they did such things or reacted in a certain way. Together, work out a better way that they can resolve/handle the situation in the future.

Offer tools to cope with feelings.
Discuss the importance of using words instead of violence to solve a problem. For example, you might say “If your sister takes your toy, first ask her nicely for it back. If that does not work you could walk out of the room and play with something else. Ignoring her may stop her next time,” or you could say, “Take a few breathes and come talk to me about it.”

Control your own behavior.
Examine how you approach conflict and try to model better behaviors for your children Seek support from your spouse, doctor, and other parents.

To summarize:

  1. Start early.
  2. Initiate conversations with your children daily.
  3. Listen to your children.
  4. Address their fears openly and without judgment.
  5. Create an open environment for expressing feelings.
  6. Communicate your own values-consistently.
  7. Try to honest and patient.
  8. Talk about issues again and again as needed.

In this way, you will be able to do as much as you can to protect and prepare your children in case of violence or tragedy.

Avatar About the Author

I enjoy children and love to work with them as they grow and mature. The relationships I form between my patients and their families make my career particularly rewarding. I practice medicine democratically, developing a partnership between physician, patient and family. Listening to my patients is my best asset.
Read more about me on my biography page.