When a tragedy strikes, it can be difficult to talk with your child about it. They may need reassurance that the world is still safe, or they may be overwhelmed by the emotions of a tragedy and not want to hear about it at all. And it’s hard to know how much to say and what to keep back; they are young, and you want to protect them. But you don’t want to deceive them either. It’s not easy to know what to say to your child after a tragedy, but there are things you can do that will make the conversation go more smoothly.
Listen To Your Child
The best way to talk to your child after a tragedy is to listen. If you give them the space and support, your child will tell you what they need. It may take some patience, and they look for the words (or play!) that they are looking for. But you’re their safe space; they’ll find the message if you give them some time to do so.
And you can also listen to what they aren’t saying to figure out when they might need to talk.
It’s important to give them the space they need. When they reach out to you, don't interrupt or try to tell them how things would be better if only they took your suggestions. Just let them talk and try not to stop them if they need to vent some anger or sadness. Deep down kids often know what’s best for them.
Show Empathy Even When You Don't Know What To Say
When you talk to your kids, it’s important not to pretend you know what they are feeling. They may feel the same as you and want to share their feelings with someone who understands. Or they might be thinking about things very differently and need freedom to explore that.
You don't need to fix anything or make them feel better; instead, just listen and respond in a way that shows empathy for their experience. Sometimes saying nothing and just showing up for them is the best thing you can do. Kids get told what they feel a lot—so just be an empathetic listener and trust them to ask for what they need.
Address Feelings, Not Just Facts
Don't just focus on the facts of the tragedy. Instead, ask your kids how they feel and what they're thinking. This can be difficult because kids often won't talk about it unless asked directly. But asking questions like "How do you feel?" or "What are your thoughts?" will prompt them to process their feelings and cope with the tragedy in their own way.
Reassure Them They Are Safe And Loved
Reassure your child that they are safe and cared for. This is especially important if the tragedy happened in their neighborhood, or if it involved someone they knew.. Be sure to tell them who was involved, what happened to them, and what will happen next, if you know. Also make sure they know that they are loved. Tell them you are there for them. You can also use this time to remind your child that they are safe, no matter what happens or how scared they feel now. By reassuring children that they are loved, you're helping them feel less alone in their grieving process, which is important for their recovery from the shock or trauma they may be experiencing.
Keep Yourself Out Of It
It's easy to get caught up in your own feelings and experiences after a tragedy. But it's important to stay focused on your child’s feelings. Don't talk about how you feel about what happened; at least not right away. Leave room for them to feel without worrying about you.
Take Care Of Yourself First
It’s critical that you don’t neglect caring for yourself while caring for your child. They need you to be there for them, and you can’t if you’re not doing what you need to find stability. Dealing with their feelings may take a lot out of you, so make sure you have the emotional reserves to give that to them.
You taking care of yourself will also model good behavior for your children. They will learn how important self-care is from watching you, and it will likely increase their resilience as they get older. And while you’re teaching them the skills of self-care, the fact you are caring for yourself will also help them feel safer. You don’t have to hide all your struggles from your child, but it’s important that they understand that you are stable enough to be there to support them. This might be talking to other family members and friends, getting any medical care you need, or talking to a therapist to get support for yourself so you can support your kids.
There are a lot of things to consider when comforting your child after a tragedy. But one thing's for sure: no matter how old your kids are, they will always be looking for reassurance that everything is going to be okay. By providing them with that comfort, and listening to and validating their feelings, you can both ensure their emotional well-being and help them move on from this difficult experience together.
If you or your child have experienced a tragedy, and you need support for yourself so you can help your children, please reach out to us at Marble Wellness. We are a team of therapists serving St. Louis and the surrounding area, and we specialize in working with parents. We will find the right therapist to provide the support and empathy you need to be there for both yourself and your family during this difficult time. You can contact us [here] to get connected with someone who can help.
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