When Tragedy Hits: Helping Children Cope

How to help a child cope with tragedyIn the wake of the tragic events in Boston, here is a repost of an article written shortly after the Newtown shooting  in December 2012. There are tips here from The National Association of School Psychologists that parents may find helpful when talking to their kids about national tragedies.


I was sitting in my dentist chair today when I saw the breaking news,

“A shooting at an Elementary school in Connecticut”. My dentist, his assistant and I sat there in shock and disbelief. An ELEMENTARY school?

In the face of tragedy our hearts and minds go naturally to the victims and families. But as parents the empathy kicks in almost immediately – asking ourselves what if it was our child’s school, teacher, principal or heaven forbid we lost our own little one?

We cry, get angry, speak to friends, attend vigils or donate to support the families and victims. Over the years we have learned how to process, cope and , move on with a bruised heart but our children with their innocent hearts have yet to develop healthy coping and processing tools. Leaving us with questions and concerns

“How can we help our kids deal with a scary world filled with tragic events without terrifying them?

The National Association of School Psychologists has created a list of tips for parents on how to deal with national tragedy.


Here are the NASP’s tips:


Model calm and control
NASP experts say children take their emotional cues from the adults in their lives. Adults should try to avoid appearing anxious or frightened.


Reassure children that they and their loved ones are safe
The NASP says parents can point out specific reasons why they are safe from danger.


Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge
The NASP suggests telling children about the various government officials, such as police, who are working to ensure that no other tragedies occur.


Tell children it is okay to feel upset
NASP experts say parents should give children the opportunity to talk about their feelings and help them understand why they may be feeling that way. It is also important to tell them it is okay to have feelings, even anger, about national tragedies.


Observe the child’s emotional state
Not all children may express their feelings verbally. The NASP says parents should consider the child’s age and focus on nonverbal signs, such as sleep, appetite, and behavior when evaluating their emotional state.


Look for children at greater risk
Some children who have suffered from personal loss, had a previous traumatic experience, or suffer from mental illness may have a stronger reaction to national tragedy than others. Parents should contact professionals if they feel their child is reacting dangerously to tragedy.


Tell children the truth
The NASP says parents shouldn’t try to downplay the event. Children could be even more worried if they think their parents are too scared to tell them what happening.


Stick to the facts
NASP experts say parents should not embellish on what happened or what might happen as a result of the tragedy. They also say not to dwell on the scale of the tragedy.

Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate
NASP says elementary school children need brief and simple info with explanations of why they are safe and why their lives will not change. The older the child is, the more questions and opinions they will likely have.


Monitor your own stress level
Experts say parents need to take care of themselves as well by talking to loved ones and other community leaders about their own feelings of grief and anger.


The NASP also says parents should focus on their child over the week following the tragedy, maintain a normal routine, and spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with their child before bed.


Read more from the NASP http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/terror_general.aspx


Mr. Rogers Words of Wisdom

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. – Mr. Rogers


Now go hug your kids a little tighter tonight.

About The Author

Kit Bennett is a celebration and play expert who believes that sprinkles, pom-poms, pipe cleaners and wiggle eyes make the world a brighter place. She’s the founder of AmazingMoms.com and KidsParties 1-2-3 where she makes planning a party for kids as easy as 1,2,3! Her inspiration comes from her four children, two granddaughters and several nieces and nephews whom she loves BIG, BIG, BIG!

3 Responses to When Tragedy Hits: Helping Children Cope

  1. mpquad says:

    Thank you for putting this info here it will help us grandparents also. A proud member of the Club.

  2. bashopper says:

    Thank you for including the quote from Mr. Rogers – he always seemed to know the right thing to say, to help us help our children.

  3. cn713 says:

    all the advice is true it helped a lot by talking and looking at children behaver

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