Saturday, September 11, 2010

Talking to Young Children about Tragedy

What a catch 22: Young children are most the world's most vulnerable and sensitive citizens, but their emotions, understanding, and communication skills are still immature. How do we, as parents, talk to our kids truthfully about tragedy while also preserving their innocence and not scaring them? Here are a few tips:

1. Follow your child's lead. Instead of explaining everything about a traumatic situation to your child, let him ask you questions about the situation. This will allow your conversation to better address what he needs and wants to know.

2. Be gentle. Encourage your child to express her feelings and thoughts by using phrases like, 'Tell me more about that,' or 'What do you mean when you say ______?'

3. Be sensitive. The way young children cope with trauma or tragedy is different than how adults handle it. Even just the thought of events like 9/11 can be very frightening for preschoolers. Look for and be sensitive to the following behaviors:

  • Clinginess
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Acting out events through play
  • Nightmares/bad dreams
  • Separation anxiety
4. Allow children to be sad. Try not to negate children's emotions directly by saying things like, 'Don't be sad,' or 'You're not sad, you weren't even alive!' Acknowledging and allowing  your child's emotions will show him that you respect him and help him learn more about his own emotional feelings.

5. Bring closure in a positive way. Make an American flag to hang outside, visit a memorial in your community, or write a letter to the troops. Such activities will help your child have closure on the topic. Bonus: your child is learning the value of patriotism and kindness to others.

Another great resource that pertains specifically to 9/11 can be found here.


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