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This Page Updated September 13, 2001

Talking with Children Header
Talking with Children During Tough Times

As adults we try to protect children against tragedies. We would like to ensure that they have happy, innocent, and carefree lives. So what is a parent, teacher, or other caring adult to do when disasters fill the airwaves and the consciousness of society?

  1. Realize that kids have heard about it

    They probably know more than you think. Not talking about makes it seem "off-limits." They have probably heard bits and pieces and don't fully understand what it all means. Adults are confused but children need to feel adults are still strong and in control.
  2. Children will mirror adults

    We can teach our children to fall apart emotionally at signs of danger, or we can teach them calmness in the face of unsettling times. Remember that especially young children watch you to see the most socially acceptable response.
  3. Be available and open for questions

    Let kids know that it is okay to talk about the sad or unpleasant events. By listening, you can find out what they need to know and how you can support them. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
  4. Share your feelings

    Tell young people if you feel afraid, angry, or frustrated. Don't expect to find answers yourself in your children. Tell them how you plan to deal with your feelings.
  5. Help children use creative outlets like art and music to express their feelings

    Children may not be able to find the right words to describe their feelings. Using art, puppets, music, or books might help children open up about their reactions. They may want to draw pictures and then destroy them, or they could want to display them or send them to someone else.
  6. Reassure young people and help them feel safe

    Children may be afraid that the same will happen to them They do not realize the distance of how far away these events occurred. Tell them that you will keep them as safe as possible. You can always tell them that you love them.
  7. Support children's concern for people they do not know

    Children often fear for people they do not even know. They learn that many people are getting hurt or are experiencing pain in some way. Explore ways to help others and ease the pain.
  8. Help children and youth find a course of action

    One important way to reduce stress is to take action. Children may want to write a letter to someone about their feelings, get involved in an organization working to prevent events like the one they are dealing with, or send money to help. Let young people help to identify the action choices. They may have wonderful ideas.
  9. Take action and get involved in something

    It is not enough to let children take action by themselves. Children who know that their parents, teachers, or other significant caregivers are working to make a difference feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. So do something. It will make you feel more hopeful, too. And hope is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children and ourselves.
  10. Ground yourself

    Deal with your personal feelings. Be in touch with your personal beliefs or religion. It brings a feeling of calm when life events don't make sense.

Developed by Judy Myers-Walls, Ph.D., Purdue Extension
Revised by Karen DeBord, Ph.D.
North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension
September 12, 2001

Special Thanks to Dr. Karen DeBord, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and North Carolina State University


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