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Talking to children about traumatic events

How to talk to children after traumatic events

Talking to Children about Traumatic Events
Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
School Crisis Consultant

When violence, disaster or major accidents are in the news, it's often difficult to know what to say to your children. What follows are some general tips to help you help your children through whatever may be frightening them -- and you.

• If your kids are discussing it, you need to discuss it. If you don't, you send the message that it is too horrible to discuss, and sometimes what kids imagine is worse than the facts.

• Stick to the facts. After an event, there may be lots of rumors and unfounded information. Stick to what is known and say, "We don't know" for the questions that don't have answers.

• Emphasize that the crisis event is a big deal because it is unusual. Kids don't have the perspective we do as adults. Let them know that what makes the news is the rare, not the common.

• Everyone deals with a crisis experience in his or her own way. Some kids don't want to talk about it and some kids do. Some kids may seem to be "inappropriate" in what they say. Respond to the feelings and not the content -- a kid who says, "That was so cool!" shouldn't be reprimanded. Just say, "I'm sure those people were really scared" or "I was scared when I heard about it."

• Children need you to model that it's okay to talk about the feelings.

• When the main facts and feelings have come out, it's time to get on with your regular routine. It is not healthy for anyone to continue to dwell on a crisis for an extended period of time. Be mindful of the media flurry and monitor television time.

• Short-term normal reactions include changes in appetite and sleep. It may also turn up in children's artwork and in conversations about other frightening or sad things they have experienced. All of these things should fade as time goes on. If they don't, you may wish to consult your pediatrician or someone in the mental health field.