The world is an unpredictable place, and as parents or caregivers, it’s our responsibility to help children navigate the uncertainties of life. From natural disasters to acts of violence, tragedy can strike at any time, leaving children feeling scared, confused and anxious. However, many adults find it hard to talk about these difficult topics with kids.

They may worry that they will say the wrong thing or make things worse for their children. In reality, though, talking to kids about tragedy is an essential part of helping them cope with tough situations.

Importance of Talking about Tragedy

Whether a child has been directly affected by a tragedy or has simply heard about one through the media or conversations with peers, it’s important for adults to initiate conversations and provide support. When adults avoid talking about difficult topics out of fear of upsetting their children, they miss out on valuable opportunities to help them develop coping skills and feel secure in the face of uncertainty. By discussing tragedy with kids in a thoughtful and age-appropriate way, adults can:

– Provide accurate information: Children often overhear confusing or inaccurate information through conversations with peers or media outlets. By providing accurate information in a calm and reassuring manner – even if it’s hard – parents can help reduce anxiety related to uncertainty.

– Validate emotions: Children may feel scared, sad, angry or guilty after hearing about a tragic event. By acknowledging these emotions as normal reactions to difficult situations – rather than dismissing them – parents can provide comfort and emotional validation.

– Foster resilience: Helping children cope with tragedy is an opportunity for building resilience skills that will serve them throughout their lives. Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to bounce back from adversity and function well despite challenging circumstances.

The Impact of Tragedy on Children

Tragedies can have a significant impact on children of all ages. For young children, especially those who are not yet able to fully understand the concept of death or violence, tragedy can be particularly confusing and frightening. They may worry that something similar could happen to them or their loved ones, leading to anxiety and sleep problems.

Older children may experience intense feelings of sadness, anger or confusion after hearing about a tragedy. They may struggle to make sense of what they’ve heard and may feel powerless in the face of events beyond their control.

Even if they are not directly affected by a tragedy, kids who hear about it through media reports or from peers can experience “secondary trauma.” This refers to the emotional distress that comes from hearing about traumatic events happening to others. Children may experience nightmares, flashbacks, and other symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Purpose of the Outline

The purpose of this article is to provide guidance on talking with kids about tragedy. It will cover general guidelines for discussing difficult topics with kids and offer age-specific approaches for preschoolers, elementary school children and teenagers. By discussing these topics in detail, parents and caregivers will be better equipped to support their children through difficult times.

Understanding Tragedy

Tragedies are events that bring about intense feelings of grief, sadness and loss in individuals and communities. These events can occur naturally, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or forest fires.

Alternatively, they may be caused by human intervention in the form of accidents, such as plane crashes or chemical spills. Tragedies can arise from acts of violence including terrorist attacks or mass shootings.

Definition of Tragedy

Tragedies are defined as catastrophic events that bring about intense emotional reactions in individuals and communities. The experience of tragedy is unique to each person and may include feelings of shock, disbelief, anger, sadness and fear. While natural disasters often cause physical damage and loss on a grand scale; accidents often involve a smaller number of people affected but can be equally devastating for those involved; violent tragedies have an added layer of trauma due to their intentional nature.

Types of Tragedies

Natural disasters are events that occur without any human intervention. They include earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or forest fires. These types of tragedies can cause significant loss due to physical damage to homes and infrastructure.

Accidents usually involve fewer people than natural disasters but can still have serious consequences for those involved. Examples include plane crashes or industrial accidents like chemical spills.

Violent tragedies are incidents that arise from intentional acts such as terrorism or mass shootings. These types of tragedies often receive significant media coverage which makes it difficult for children to avoid exposure to graphic images and descriptions that might upset them.

How Children Experience and Process Tragedy

Children experience tragedy differently from adults because they lack the life experiences needed to understand the event’s implications fully. Young children may not understand the concept of death or danger fully while older children might be preoccupied with fears related to their future safety. The child’s age will determine their understanding of the tragedy.

Younger children may become frightened by the event, while older children may become angry or frustrated by not being able to help. Children often respond to tragedy with fear, anxiety, and stress.

They may become clingy, show changes in behavior, have trouble sleeping or nightmares. It’s worth noting that every child has their unique way of dealing with emotional events like tragedies.

Some may want to talk about it a lot while others might prefer to process it in solitude. It is essential for parents and caregivers to be there for their children as they navigate these uncharted waters and provide them with support when they are ready to talk about their feelings.

Talking to Kids About Tragedy: General Guidelines

Be Honest and Straightforward

One of the most important things to keep in mind when talking to children about tragedy is to be honest with them. Children are perceptive and can often sense when something is off. Shielding them from the truth or sugarcoating the situation may lead to confusion, mistrust, and even anxiety.

It is crucial to give children an accurate understanding of what has happened in a language that they can comprehend. Use simple language and avoid going into too many details that may be difficult for children to process.

For example, if explaining a natural disaster to a child, you could say something like “there was a big storm that caused a lot of damage in our city”.

Use Age-Appropriate Language When discussing tragedy with children, it’s important to use language that is appropriate for their age level. Younger children may not understand complex terms such as “terrorist attack” or “mass shooting” so it’s better to use simpler phrases like “a bad thing happened”.

As they grow older, you can gradually introduce more complex terms while still keeping the language age-appropriate. Additionally, when discussing tragic events with older kids and teenagers, try not to use overly dramatic or intense language that may cause them additional distress.

Instead of using phrases like “horrible”, “terrifying”, or “disgusting”, use objective terms such as “challenging”, “difficult”, or “unfortunate”. This will help prevent teenagers from becoming overwhelmed by volatile emotions.

Encourage Questions and Provide Answers

Children will have questions about tragic events because it’s natural for them as curious individuals seeking answers. Encouraging questions allows children’s minds which are already racing with thoughts about what happened find some peace knowing that they can ask whatever questions they have to an adult who is knowledgeable. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to admit that.

You could say something like “I don’t know but let’s find out together.” If there are some questions that you’re not comfortable answering, try to explain this in a sensitive and age-appropriate way. But always try to provide as much information as possible so your child doesn’t feel like they are left wondering.

Validate Their Feelings

Children may experience a wide range of emotions in response to tragic events – shock, sadness, anger, fear – and these emotions should be validated. Validating means acknowledging the child’s feelings and letting them know it is okay for them to feel this way. This can help kids feel heard and understood.

To validate their feelings, you can say things like “It’s normal for you to feel scared right now” or “It’s okay if you’re feeling sad or angry.” Let them know that their emotions matter and are valid. Encourage your child(ren) to express how they are feeling without judgment or correction.

Provide Reassurance

Talking about tragedy with children can be overwhelming especially because children might easily pick up on the adults’ anxiety around the topic. It’s important for parents/guardians/teachers/caregivers to reassure children by reminding them of their safety net(s). You could say something like “We will do everything possible to keep you safe” or “We have people who work hard every day to make sure we stay safe”.

Additionally, reassure your child that while tragic events do happen, they remain rare occurrences hence there is no need for excessive worry or fear going forward. Remind kids about all the good things in life such as loving family members and friends which can act as sources of comfort during such difficult times.

Age-Specific Approaches to Talking about Tragedy

Talking to Preschoolers (Ages 2-5): Explaining What Happened in Simple Terms

Talking to preschoolers about tragedy can be a challenging task, but it is important to keep it simple. Use basic language to explain what happened and emphasize that the child is safe. For example, “There was an accident, and some people got hurt. But you are safe because Mommy/Daddy will keep you safe.” Encourage the child to ask questions and answer them honestly.

Acknowledging Their Feelings and Fears: Providing Comfort and Reassurance

It’s important for children of this age group to know that their feelings are valid. Acknowledge any fear or sadness they may be experiencing and let them know it’s okay to feel that way.

Provide comfort by giving them a hug or holding their hand. Reassure them that everything will be okay, but also let them know you will be there for them if they need help processing their emotions.

Talking to Elementary School Children (Ages 6-12): Encouraging Them to Express Their Emotions

Elementary school children may have more complex emotions when dealing with tragedy. Encourage them to express themselves through conversation or art projects like drawing or writing stories. Let them talk openly about how they’re feeling and listen actively without judgement.

Helping Them Understand the Event’s Cause and Effect: Discussing Safety Measures in Place

Children at this age may have questions about why the tragic event occurred. Explain what happened in an age-appropriate way, while also discussing safety measures in place both at home and in the community for prevention of similar events happening again.

Talking To Teenagers (Ages 13-18): Encouraging Open Dialogue About The Event

Teenagers may be more aware of the world and its troubles, so it’s important for them to have a safe space to express their thoughts and opinions. Encourage open dialogue about the event and discuss how it may relate to other events happening globally. Teenagers may already have ideas for helping others who are affected by tragedy.

Allowing For Self-expression Through Art or Writing

Art or writing can be a powerful way for teenagers to process their emotions and work through trauma. Encourage them to use these mediums as a form of self-expression. They can create poems, songs, paintings, or collages that represent their feelings or experiences.


Talking to children about tragedy is an important part of helping them process the event in a healthy way. It’s important to keep things simple and age-appropriate, while also encouraging open communication and self-expression.

Reassure children that they are loved and safe, while also discussing ways they can help others who are impacted by tragedy. With care and compassion, we can help our children navigate difficult times with resilience and strength.