Unfortunately, we live in a world where traumatic events occur relatively frequently. Talking with children about these events in an age appropriate way can be very healthy and therapeutic. It can reduce the stress, anxiety and depression that children can feel when they do not have a safe outlet to discuss their feelings. The good news is that children are very resilient, and with a little help can work through their feelings and move forward.
Tips to talking to your children about traumatic events:
Your child wants more than anything to know they are safe and that you are in control. It’s ok and healthy to show your feelings, but be careful to be in control. Children want to know that you can keep them safe, and the more in control you appear, the safer they feel. Before you talk with your child, work through your own feelings. Practice what you want to say to your child, and say it in a casual way. Instead of sitting your child down and having a serious discussion, which can raise their anxiety, talk with them in a casual setting, e.g., while watching TV, playing a video game, etc., and answer any questions that they have in an age appropriate manner.
- Unless your child is under 6, talk with them as soon as the news breaks. They will hear about it quickly from friends, schools, etc. If the child is under 6, you may choose to talk with them only if they bring it up to you.
- Reassure them that although these things do happen, they are very rare and that you and other adults are doing your best to keep them safe.
- Talk to school, etc. to find out what is being said to the children and what resources are available for them, for example, counseling, discussion groups, etc.
- Pay attention to communication from the school (e.g., handouts, email) that explains what they are discussing in school.
- When talking to elementary and middle school children, limit graphic details. Acknowledge that these things can happen but are rare. Reassure them that you are there for them if they want to talk.
- Children of all ages have so much access to the media that they have probably already been exposed to the event. Talk with them right away about what they have seen or heard. The media coverage alone can be traumatic so it may be a good idea to monitor what your child is watching.
- Typically, with social media, high school students have already heard about the event and discussed it with their friends. You can discuss it more graphically with them, and let them know you are available if they want to talk.
- The most important thing you can do is be available when your child wants to talk and give your child 100% of your attention.
Some reactions that your child might be having include:
- Worried about their safety at home and dschool
- Scared to be alone in a room
- Scared to sleep alone
- Upset stomach
- Aches and pains
- Bad mood
- Difficulty sleeping
If your child is having a difficult time and is having any of these reactions, seek help right away. The sooner you get help the better your child will be able to work through their feelings.
For assistance, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. We have a network of counselors throughout Maryland. Jim Quinn, Director, (443) 703-3041, email@example.com; Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Associate Director, (443) 703-3042, firstname.lastname@example.org. Toll Free line 1(888) 388-5459.
Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C has over 20 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, paddle boarding, sailing, rock climbing and training for triathlons.