Talking with Children about recent tragic events

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After the tragic events on Friday in Paris, a number of children have experience anxiety and worries. The article below is a compilation of advice based on research and my professional experience as Life Coach with children.

Keep the main goal in mind. The objective is to help your child deal with their emotions constructively. Help the children overcome anxieties or tension derived from those news, and allow them to continue enjoying their day to day (and night to night as that is when most worries will surface) as much as possible.

Is it relevant to your child? Not every kid will react the same to these events. Some children might be significantly affected while the kid seating next to him might cope with the information just fine. Be observant of any changes of conversation or behaviours. Over-reactions or tears appearing easily. Be aware that this doesn’t depend so much on the age of the child, from 4 years on they might be taking on information, however I personally think the group most affected is likely to be in the 8-15 years old.

Moderate exposure. The media is full of coverage about the terrorist attacks. I never advocate to hide things from children but a measured approach is very sensible. The pictures, comments, videos etc can be very overpowering for anybody let alone for a child. Be aware of what movies or TV programmes they watch, what games they play (specially video games).

Be ready to talk about it. If your children haven’t learnt about the events, most likely they will learn from school friends or other sources. If this is a concern for him/her ensure you are ready to talk. By talking about it on your own time you are giving yourself the best chance to lead and manage the conversation constructively. The last thing we want is to be asked this important questions unprepared.

Give yourself time to talk. When talking about the events, ensure you have plenty of time to do so. Don’t rush it or you will miss their emotions and it might only exacerbate the worries.

Be aware of your emotions. We take most of the information from the body language and tone of voice. Words account for around 5-10% of the message. Be aware of your body language, your tone and your general state of calmness when talking. The children, most likely, will mirror your state, whichever it is. It is very important to show your emotions as well, this will give them permission to show theirs.

Be open and honest but very carefully worded. Explain to them in very simple language what happened. The more detail we provide the stronger the image will be in their heads, making the emotions stronger. I personally favour describing the facts in a reasonably generic and impersonal/detached way. This will help the children put some emotional distance with the events.

Be Patient, it might take time to assimilate it. It’s possible the children become tearful. If they do, it is a good sign that they are letting their emotions out. It is most likely that the tears are caused by fear than the events themselves. Help them voice them out. Also, be aware that they are most likely to surface at night. If this happens, just be patient, they are not doing in it on purpose, they are not enjoying it and if they knew how to control their emotions they would.

Help them move on. It is very important for them to know that people are looking after them. The police, the government, they are all working to avoid this from happening. Ensure they understand how rare these events are.

Adapt their environment over the next few days. Reduce or eliminate exposure to news in a way you can control better the message. Try to watch uplifting movies and play constructive games. Ensure a positive routine at home and special before bed time. Read with them and allow time to talk about some happy memories or future plans.

Finally, always use your commons sense. You are the person who best know your child, use your commons sense to adapt these or other advice you receive.

Please contact me if you need any advice on this topic. I am happy to help any way I can.

Further reading. These are some articles that I have come across and make total sense to me. I highly recommend to read them if this topic affects you or your children: