Parents and educators are grappling with ways to communicate with children about tragedies and ease their fears, especially in the aftermath of the latest school shooting. To help with this, my “TALK Model” provides four essential components for discussing any tragedy with a child. It is crucial to remain composed and self-assured during these conversations, as only then can children truly internalize our words and find comfort and resilience.
T.A.L.K. Model to Discuss Tragedy with Kids
T – TALK about the tragic event. Ensure that your child has accurate information that come straight from you.
A – ASSESS how the child is coping, Tune into your child’s feelings and behavior. Watch and listen how he deals with the event so you’ll know how to help him cope and build resilience. Every child handles a tragedy differently.
L – LISTEN to concerns and questions. Use the “Talk. Stop. Listen. Talk. Stop. Listen” model as you converse. The secret is to listen more than your talk. Answer what you can. Follow your child’s lead.
K – KINDLE hope that despite the horror, life will go on. Help your children realize though there is a horrific tragedy, there is also goodness, compassion and hope.
There are 11 suggestions for utilizing the T.A.L.K. model while conversing with your kids. Select the ones that are applicable and bear in mind that a discussion regarding a traumatic occurrence should not be a solitary occurrence. Keep the dialogue open and keep an eye on your child’s well-being.
11 Tips to Talk About Tragedies
1. Stay calm and strong.To ease your children’s anxiety, it’s important to manage your own worries. Your calmness will help your children feel calmer. You can communicate to your children that you are feeling upset, worried, or sad, but also let them know the strategies you are using to stay calm such as meditation, going for a walk, listening to calming music, doing deep breathing exercises, or exercising. Journaling your feelings is another helpful tool. By demonstrating how you cope, you can provide a positive example for your child to follow. A resilient child often has resilient parents.
2. Talk in age-appropriate terms. Kids hear about tragedies. More often than not what your child hears won’t be accurate and that misinformation can fuel anxiety. Kids need to hear the facts, and we are their best source.
- Plan what you want to say. Doing so will help you have a calmer delivery.
- Find out what they know. Begin by getting on the same page as your child so you can direct the conversation accordingly. “What do you know?’” or “What have you heard?” are good openers.
- Don’t worry if you don’t have the answers. It’s okay say: “I don’t know, but I’ll find that out.” Or “Great question. Let’s find that answer together.”
- Be kid-oriented. Alter talking points to your child’s age and maturity. Your discussion can be as long or as short as your child needs. Kids don’t need horrific details.“Yes, children died”..but you don’t have to describe types of injuries.
- Give information in short nuggets. Don’t explain more than your child is ready to hear or needs to know.
- Honor silence. Allow time for your child to process the information and try to understand what you’re saying.
- Answer questions matter-of-factly. Be prepared for anything. “Why did he shoot those kids?” is one of the toughest questions. Answer based on facts and what you want your child to know,, but don’t give the view that’s how all people are. You can also flip and ask: “What do you think?”
- Keep the conversation going. Let your child know you’re available to talk at any time or any place. “You may have other questions, so come to me!”
- Use a safe starter.As a writing assistant, I can rephrase the content by suggesting that parents encourage their children to share their worries by starting a conversation with them. It is advisable to ask about their friends and what they are saying to make the child feel safe. It is wrong to assume that older children are not affected, even if they are quiet about it. Parents can also kindle the interest of their tweens or teens in social justice by asking their opinions on what the country should do. This can lead to a discussion on gun laws and rights, which can reduce their fears. It is essential to let children express themselves freely during such conversations.
- Assure safety.The safety of children is of utmost importance. For young children who lack an understanding of time and distance, the fear of whether they are also in danger arises. It is important to explain to them that the incident occurred in a faraway place. To alleviate their fears, emphasize the measures being taken by the community, such as the efforts of teachers, police, and doctors to ensure their safety. While no one can guarantee complete safety, you can reassure your child that everyone cares and is doing their best to keep them safe.
3. Validate feelings.It is important for kids to understand that expressing their emotions is acceptable and feeling upset is a regular occurrence. You can assist your child in discovering constructive ways to communicate their worries. It’s essential to convey your own feelings, such as saying “I’m upset” or “I feel sad for those families.” The crucial aspect is to make sure your child knows you are open to listening to them. These are factors to keep in mind.
- The closer in proximity a child is to the physical event.
- If the child personally knows the victim.
- If the child is more sensitive or anxious in nature.
- If the child has endured a recent trauma such as a parent’s deployment, a divorce, a death.
- If the child identifies with the victim (such as same age, gender, or other characteristic).
4. Offer age-appropriate information. Tailor facts to the child’s level of understanding. The American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers these tips:
Preschool.It is advisable not to assume that your child is unaware of the current event, and expect him to ask repetitive questions. Young children tend to ask repeated questions as a strategy to comprehend information. Respond calmly and concisely to their inquiries and encourage them to ask more if needed. Studies suggest that younger children lack the cognitive capacity to perceive that the televised visuals could be reruns, and presume that the calamity is taking place in real-time.
Ages 5 to 9: The current generation is inquisitive and attempts to comprehend tragic events. They may ask inquiries such as, “What motivates individuals to commit murder? Why did that young man have the desire to harm those children?” and “Why do people possess cruel tendencies?” If you are uncertain of the answers, it is best to be truthful. Don’t be discouraged by their curiosity – it is essential to encourage your children to continue to inquire and learn.
Ages 10 to 12:Although someone may not be willing to chat, it’s still possible that they are reflecting on the tragedy. To initiate a conversation, one could use a phrase such as “Have you heard anything from your friends?” to see if they have any thoughts on the matter.
Age 13 and over:Be alert when people try to downplay a significant event and pay attention. Engage teenagers in meaningful conversations about the event as they can often provide valuable insights. In addition to parents, educators, coaches, scout masters, and camp directors may also be discussing the event with teenagers. Parents can start conversations by asking their teens what they have heard or using a newspaper article about the event as a starting point.
5. Limit or monitor troubling news. Disturbing visuals can be unsettling. If your children happen to view news coverage, it is advisable to watch it together to address any questions they may have. It is recommended to restrict their exposure to media. Do not presume that your child will not be impacted. A study conducted on adolescents revealed that their primary concern was unscheduled news updates without an adult to explain it to them. Hence, it is vital to be present and provide support to your child.
6. Comfort with family activities. During periods of stress, it is crucial for children to feel supported and comforted by their families to create a sense of togetherness and security. To help alleviate tension, parents can engage in activities with their children such as taking walks or bike rides, practicing prayer or meditation, listening to calming music or watching funny videos. Additionally, families can establish traditions that bring comfort and reassurance, such as attending religious services, having family hugs, or lighting a candle each night to express sympathy for those affected by tragic events.
7. Stick to routines.Knowing that life goes on despite the news can be comforting for children. Maintaining a routine can help to alleviate anxiety and send the message that even in the midst of tragedy, parents still go to work, children still attend school, and the world keeps moving forward.
8. Tune in closer to anxious kids. If you see anxiety, stress and pessimism, linger, become more pronounced, spill over into other areas of your child’s life and you worry that it may be depresionplease call for the help of a mental health professional.
9. Be proactive.Transforming frustrations into positive activism has a therapeutic effect and can inspire constructive changes, as exemplified by the students of Parkland High School. Encouraging children to take proactive steps towards addressing issues can instill in them a sense of empowerment and inspire them to believe in their ability to impact a world that may seem daunting or perilous. If your adolescent is feeling distressed, suggest that they communicate their grievances to their elected officials or post about their concerns. Gathering a group of peers to brainstorm potential solutions can also help to spur positive action.
10. Point out heroism and helpers.Encourage your child to pay attention to stories of heroism and kindness exhibited by various individuals such as teachers, police officers, ambulance drivers, parents, and doctors who attempted to offer help during a crisis. Highlight small acts of kindness, love, and optimism that people demonstrate towards one another. Look for stories of benevolence in the newspaper and discuss them with your child. Some families refer to such accounts as “Good News Reports.”
11. Help your child find proactive ways to cope. Encourage your family to engage in activities that promote togetherness and provide comfort during difficult times. Participating in religious services or lighting candles can be empowering for children. Establishing a family ritual can help children develop coping skills that they can use throughout their lives. It’s crucial to remind your children that the world is not just full of violence, hate, and fear, but also compassion, love, and hope. Help your child see the world in a positive light and instill a sense of optimism. Our children deserve to have hope for the future.