Traumatic events such as gun violence, natural disasters or even COVID-19, unfortunately, happen all the time. Whether close to home or halfway around the world, these types of tragedies are overwhelming and upsetting for all of us, regardless of age. Understanding these events can be a challenge for adults. Explaining these events to children poses an even greater challenge. Navigating the heavy emotions that come with a tragedy can be confusing for children. They will need the support and guidance of their parents more than ever.

Below are six tips on explaining traumatic news to a child.

1. Carve out time to talk

It is important for your child to feel that they can come to you. Choose a time when both you and your child are relaxed. This could be after sharing a snack or after watching a TV show together. Keep an eye out for signs of worry or anxiety in your child. These signs include:

  • Sadness or irritability
  • Changes in usual eating or sleeping patterns
  • Headache, stomachache or not feeling well

2. Let their questions guide you

It’s likely your child has already heard about the event. The news and media coverage are accessible to a wide range of ages. Perhaps adults or other children are discussing it at school as well. Whatever it may be, your child has probably absorbed some information.

Allow your child to let you know what they have seen or heard, ask them how they feel about it and let them ask any questions they have. From here, you can gauge what information is age-appropriate to share.

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3. Explain

Assessing what information to share can be difficult. Keeping in mind your child’s age is key. Consider the world through their eyes. Avoid frightening detail, especially with younger children. Reassure them that they’re safe and let them know that whatever they feel is okay.

Teenagers will most likely come into the conversation with more knowledge about the tragedy. They may have complex questions, and parents should not shy away from admitting that they do not have all the answers.

Regardless of age, maintaining an honest and open dialogue is most important.

4. Limit your child’s media consumption

Try to prevent younger children from seeing or hearing graphic, violent or upsetting images and sounds from the event. For older children and teens, be aware of what information is “out there” to be prepared for what they might hear or see. Watch along with them and have a discussion about the new stories as they happen. It is healthy to limit the amount of time they spend engaged with such heavy content.

5. Maintain a feeling of stability

Sticking to a regular routine can be reassuring for children. Make sure that your child eats regular meals and gets plenty of sleep. A healthy daily routine is important for a child’s emotional stability. Getting plenty of exercise, playing with friends and bonding with family can help a child’s physical and mental health remain stable.

6. Verbally reassure your child

Validate their feelings. Remind them that an emotional reaction is normal. Let your child know that most of the incidents are rather rare, but they may seem more common because of the nature of the event and the amount of media coverage. Most importantly, remind your child that you love them.

Teladoc cares for your whole family

Talking about traumatic events and parenting a child who has experienced trauma can be tough, but Teladoc is here to support you in difficult times. Teladoc offers online therapy with a qualified therapist to help your teen with whatever challenge they are facing. Connect with us through the Teladoc mobile app, online or by phone.

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With Teladoc, you can arrange for your teen to be supported by a qualified professional. Our virtual therapists can help your teen with anxiety, stress, depression and more.

Published on September 9, 2022

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

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