How to Talk to Your Child About Tragic Events

The senseless act of gun violence at Robb Elementary School (Uvalde, TX), that stole the lives of almost twenty children and at least one teacher, has caused many parents to grapple with feelings of uncertainty, anger, sadness, and helplessness.  We are wrestling with our own feelings while trying to support and comfort our children.  Knowing how to manage your fear and allowing your child to express their own feelings can be difficult.  Here is some guidance on how to talk to your child about tragic events.

Assess what your child already knows.

With the speed of the Internet and social media, information travels very quickly.  Find out what your child has already heard, read, or discussed about the particular event to determine what they already know.  Once you have identified their level of knowledge on the topic, you can determine how to lead the conversation.  You will also identify what information you may need to correct or re-direct.  Misinformation is common, so as parents we must be diligent about making sure our children are equipped with proper understanding.

Avoid presenting a false sense of security.

This one is difficult.  We want to make sure our children always feel safe and secure.  They have a right to feel this way.  However, in the pursuit of helping our children avoid worry or fear, we must make sure they are aware and prepared for the world they must function within each day.  Do not make light of the situation or deny the weight of your child’s feelings.  Do not attempt to “change” their feelings, even if what they express is painful for you to hear.  You cannot fully support your child without a true understanding of their feelings.  Let your children know their feelings are real and valid, and they don’t have to process their emotions on their own.  Provide love and assurance along the way.

Keep the conversation age-appropriate.

You should be aware of your child’s developmental stage, as well as their comfort level with certain topics. The younger the child, the more reassurance they need from you. Younger children may have trouble understanding what has happened and why, so be mindful of what and how you express details about the event.

Also, take your cues from your child.  Be aware of how engaged your child is during the conversation.  Do not continue discussing the event if your child is clearly ready to stop.  Let them know they can always come back and talk to you, if needed.

Be careful about how you intermingle your feelings into the conversation.  Make sure you do not share sentiments that will introduce additional worry or fear to your child.

Note: Remember to ask open-ended questions to allow your child to fully express their thoughts and feelings.

Be a good listener.

A good listener is one who listens carefully and responds appropriately. When you are a good listener, your child will feel more comfortable talking about their feelings.

When your child shares something, be sure to listen attentively. Don’t interrupt with questions; let your child talk until they complete their thought.  Ask clarifying questions such as, “What do you mean by {insert idea or thought}?” or “What makes you feel this way?” to help your child with their expression.


Ultimately, our children deserve to feel safe and secure.  The events of the world we live in challenge that pursuit every day.  As parents, we must remain focused and diligent about protecting the innocence, hope, and creativity that resides in each of our children.

It is not always easy to know how to approach tough topics and events.  As we respond appropriately and give them opportunities express themselves without judgment, we assure our children that we are committed to staying the course and protecting them at all costs.

If you would like connect with Dr. Tiffany for more assistance, feel free to contact her at [email protected].

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