Tips on Talking to Your Kids About a Traumatic Event

With all of the recent violence in today’s world you may find yourself wanting, or needing to discuss it with your children. Finding the right words and putting it in a way they can understand when you may also be emotional can be difficult. Follow these tips on talking to your children about a traumatic event to help start the conversation.

  1. Conduct your conversation in an environment they are comfortable in. Perhaps it’s in the family room or your backyard. Do it in a space where they feel safe. Allow them to bring and hold an item of comfort such as a stuffed animal to further that safe feeling.
  2. Ask open ended questions on what they know about the situation. This allows them the time to open up and discuss what they know and how it truly makes them feel.
  3. Listen and allow them to let their thoughts out in the open. Try not to interrupt but instead nod and acknowledge their sentiments. Feeling heard is the first step in providing comfort.
  4. Make sure to share information that is age appropriate, graphic details or specifics are not what is needed. Focus on how your child is feeling and not rehashing the overall event.
  5. Clear any misinformation they may have had gotten from their peers or other sources. Remove any false information that may pronounce their fear.
  6. It is important to limit media exposure. The more they may hear the more they may continue to feel traumatized by the event.
  7. Provide reassurance about their safety, making sure your child feels loved and supported during this difficult time.
  8. Teach them what they should and can do to stay safe. Are they still concerned over their safety? Give them tips and tricks to help them feel they have a plan should they ever feel unsafe. Such as determining what adults to trust and who to listen to. Tell them to follow the three ‘outs’*:
    • Get Out: If it is possible to get away from danger, go to a safe place. Teachers, leaders and first responders will come to find you in your meeting place or another place.
    • Keep Out: If it is not possible to get out of the building or out of harm’s way, keep danger out of the room by locking and blocking the doors and staying away from the windows.
    • Hide Out: Stay out of sight from danger by hiding behind large pieces of furniture. Try to stay quiet so we know if we need to get out or when the danger has passed.
  9. Have the talk in a few sittings, children will have ongoing questions.
  10. Monitor any behavioral or attitude changes in your children after the event such as grades dropping, sleeplessness or nightmares, withdrawing from activities that once brought them joy or constant fear.
  11. Seek other resources for additional help: pediatrician, counselors, pastor etc.
  12. Create a family ritual of incorporating talk time with your children with no television or telephone on. Make sure they feel they have your undivided attention and make sure you have theirs.
  13. Incorporate in your daily lives relaxation activities with your children which can include yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises, etc

Dr. Rosemary Prince, MD

*http://www.savethechildren.org

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