Speaking With Children About Grief & Tragedy

  • Parents are encouraged to acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers and local police.
    Below are suggestions from the National Association of School Psychologists for how to talk with children about a tragedy and other related tips.

    • Be reassuring. Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Your reactions are most important. Recognize that some children may be concerned about something bad happening to themselves, family or friends. Explain to them the safety measures in place and reassure them that you and other adults will take care of them.

    • Be a good listener and observer. Let children guide you to learn how concerned they are or how much information they need. If they are not focused on the tragedy, do not dwell on it. However, be available to answer their questions to the best of your ability. Young children may not be able to express themselves verbally. Pay attention to changes in their behavior or social interactions.

    • Maintain as much continuity and normalcy as possible. Allowing children to deal with their reactions is important but so is providing a sense of normalcy. Routine family activities, classes, after-school activities, and friends can help children feel more secure and better able to function.

    • Spend family time. Being with family is always important in difficult or sad times. Even if your children are not significantly impacted by this tragedy, this may be a good opportunity to participate in and to appreciate family life. Doing things together reinforces children’s sense of stability and connectedness.

    • Do something positive with your children to help others in need. Taking action is one of the most powerful ways to help children feel more in control and to build a stronger sense of connection. Suggestions include making individual donations to prevention or support agencies, holding a school or community fundraiser, or even working to support families in need within the community.

    • Ask for help if you or your children need it. Any tragedy can feel overwhelming for families directly affected, particularly those who have lost loved ones. Staying connected to your community can be extremely helpful. It may also be important to seek additional support from a mental health professional to cope with overwhelming feelings.

    • Understand the grief process. Grieving is a process, not an event. Everyone grieves differently, and not all children within a developmental age group understand death in the same way or with the same feelings. Children’s views of death are shaped by their unique perspective of the world and experiences. Being aware of cultural issues in death is important to helping children who are grieving.

    • Be aware of your own needs. Don’t ignore your own feelings of anxiety, grief, and anger. Talking to friends, family members, religious leaders, and mental health counselors can help. It is important to let your children know that you are sad. Understand that if you lost family or friends, just getting through the day can be overwhelming. You will be better able to support your children if you can express your own emotions in a productive manner. Get appropriate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

Additional Resources