When Tragedy Strikes: A Mom’s How-To

by Lauren Verini

As parents, the essence of our job is to protect our children. To shield them from the harsh realities of life as best we can.  But in today’s crazy world, you can’t so much as turn on the TV or open your web browser without some type of tragic news being plastered all over. At what point do you talk to your child about it, and what do you say?

Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a PhD. I’m just (just!) a mom. But for me, the child’s age plays a big role in what to say, and even if you should say anything at all. For example, my son is two. Did I talk to him about the bombings at the Boston Marathon? Of course not. Not only could he not comprehend the events that took place that day, but I chose to keep him sheltered from those types of evils in our world for now. Sadly, there will come a time when bombings, shootings and other non-natural disasters will take place, and I will have to explain to my son and daughter why people do these things to other innocent people. But I will starve that day off for as long as I can. I will let them think the world is a wonderful place for as long as I can. I will let them be children.

Once your kids are of school age, it is harder to keep your little bubble intact.  They become more aware of things on the news.  Opinions and comments from other people, be it teachers, friends, other parents, make their way into your child’s mind, possibly creating worries, concerns and questions. As a parent it is our job to assuage these worries and concerns and answer these questions as best we can.

So what do you say?

1. Keep your explanations short and simple. Use terms that they can understand.

2. Don’t get into graphic details of the events.  This is not to say to sugarcoat the tragedy, but don’t give your child more details than you think he or she can handle for their age and emotional maturity. You may want to ask your child what they know about the event before divulging any unnecessary information, and address what they have told you.

3. Answer any additional questions they may ask.  This could be immediately after your talk or for some time to come. Many of these questions will be hard to answer — “Why did this happen?” — but do your best to explain to your child sometimes there are no apparent reasons for things, and to focus on the positives you can take away from tragic events (appreciate each day, marvel at the way people come together to help in times of tragedy) as well as how you can help those affected in the aftermath (send cards to the victims, donate money or time, etc.).

4. Above all else, make sure your child knows they are safe, secure and protected. Assure them that these types of tragedies are rarities, despite what we see and hear on the news. Let them know that the world is full of good, loving people who want to help, not harm, others. That the good people far outweigh the bad in this world. Because I truly believe they do.

And always remember these wise words from Mr. Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

This post comes to us from guest contributor and mother of two, Laura Savio.


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