Talking to our children about any negative topic or experience like death or tragedy is always a challenge. Our instinct as a parent is to protect our children from harm and sadness. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, which means that we are faced with the difficult task as a parent to talk to our children about topics such as death and tragedy.
Talking about tragedy with your child is often necessary, however it is not easy.
I would like to start this post off with a blanket statement that is…I am not a parenting expert. I am a teacher with formal education in the area of Child Studies and someone who has worked with children a lot. I will be expressing MY OPINION as a parent, but you know your child best. Therefore, my overall parenting advice (if you choose to listen) is to follow your parenting gut; that inner voice in your head and that feeling in the pit of your stomach.
In our household, we typically do not listen to or watch the news. This is a personal preference of mine, but it is also a parenting decision that
we I have made. There are negative situations happening in our world every single day that are exploited on the news. I prefer to live my life focusing on gratitude for where we live and what we have and to focus on the positive whenever possible. 7
There is a time and a place to have discussions about various difficult topics, however I personally do not feel that my children should be exposed to that on a daily basis. While some people may disagree with me, we need to remember that we are all doing our best as parents and we all parent differently.
As parents, sometimes we have to agree to disagree.
The first question that often comes up is how old should my child be before I discuss tragic occurrences with them. Some questions you can ask yourself are:
- Is your child old enough to understand discussion around a tragedy or will it go right over their heads (e.g. if they are 2 or under).
- How sensitive is your child?
- Is your child in someone else’s care during the day? e.g. daycare OR school
- What life experiences has your child had that could relate to the topic for discussion?
- How has your child handled negative information in the past?
- What comforts your child?
For me, I didn’t discuss (unless my child directly observed OR heard something) topics of tragedy until they were in grade one. Again, each child AND each circumstance is always taken into consideration.
Some helpful guidelines when discussing tragic occurrences with a child:
- Acknowledge the tragedy. We don’t want to blow off topics that are real and important. We want to acknowledge that what happened is terrible and sad.
- Reassure your child. During difficult times, our children need as much love and reassurance as we can provide.
- Encourage your child to ask you questions. It is important for your child to know that they can come to you at any time to ask them questions about things they have heard, parts of your discussion that didn’t make sense, or simply to discuss that they feel scared or unsure.
- Be truthful, but keep it age appropriate. Talk with them in words that they can understand and keep unnecessary details out of the conversation, unless they get brought up by your child.
- Your home is a safe place. Ensure that your child knows that they can talk about their feelings, they can express emotions AND they are loved, cared for and are safe.
- Remind your child that the story often changes through people and the media. The advice that I give to my children is to listen, acknowledge and then move on. If they would like to discuss the topic further, make sure there is a trusted adult around to ensure that proper information is being shared.
- Check in with your child. Be sure over the next few days or weeks that you check in with your child. Do they have further questions? How are they feeling? Do they need more reassurance?
- Focus on something positive. End your discussion with gratitude or something positive. Remind your child that you are grateful for the loving, safe and supportive network in your family, friends and community. This is a good starting point to set the example.
I will say it again: Parenting is not always easy.
As parents, we must not avoid difficult topics. It is our job as a parent to address them and to help our child to navigate the world. Follow your parenting gut and good luck! As always, if you ever want to talk things through or share your experience, please feel free to reach out.