Talking to children about tragedies after disasters occur

Children impacted by new events

In Leicester we are hearing of the tragic events of the Leicester City Football Club owner's helicopter crashing into a car park outside the club's ground as it left the stadium following a Premier League match, here, Growing Together’s therapist David talks about the importance of recognising the increased anxiety children may feel after an event like this.

After any disaster, parents and other adults can find it difficult to know what to say and share with children. It is best to start from where the child is; most children will hear something over the next few days, no matter how old they are, therefore ask them what they have already heard / know, and what questions they have. Generally, it is best to share basic information with children, without any unnecessary graphic details, so start by giving less information and providing details in the most appropriate and clear way you can.

Older children and teenagers may have more questions and may benefit from more information than may be given to the younger ones; but whatever their age it is always advisable to keep the information you are giving straightforward and direct.

Initially, it is possible the child may not have much to say however it could be useful to revisit the topic if something connects to them personally and they later need to talk.

Our first thought may be to reassure the child but it is important to recognise that they may not be feeling the same as we do, there could be many different emotions connected to this; sadness, fear, anger, some children may have concerns different to us, for example in a situation like this many are concerned about the tragic loss of life, but for some children they may be fearful of a family member that may be flying, or it could be the pictures of flames that distress them.

It is equally important to acknowledge other feelings that might occur such as excitement (how often is it the crashes in films that people love and remember?), while other children may just feel ‘normal’ and could be concerned that they don’t feel the way everyone else expects them to.


What can we do?

What is needed is primarily to listen to the child and to be a comforting presence - if adults show an excessive level of anxiety and vulnerability, that will certainly create higher anxiety in children.

When talking to them it is important to explain the rarity of such events; parents can reassure their children by telling them these tragedies may seem more frequent due to the global nature of news as well as the repetition of images surrounding the events on social media.

Parents should be honest as to how their children are safe and the realistic / honest measures that are taken to protect them and others as relevant. Parents can also list adults who are available to them if they don't feel safe in different places / situations.

Keeping young children away from repetitive graphic images that may be seen / heard on TV, radio, social media, computers, etc is important, however for older children who may want to watch and discuss the events - it may be helpful to record and preview this before sharing with them to ensure suitability, but you can also then stop / pause this with them and discuss as relevant to them.

There are a range of books that can help with discussion, such as When Dinosaurs Die could be a relevant one for this situation.

It is also important to discuss how others may feel and make children aware of the need to be sensitive to others feelings. Children will generally follow good advice, but it is important to give them some freedom to make their own decisions about what they’re ready for.

Signs to look out for that a child may not be coping well:

- Sleeping problem

- Physical complaints

- Changes in behaviours

- Emotional problems

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is reacting in a typical way to an unusual event or whether they are having real problems coping, and might need extra support.  If you are concerned, talk to your school or contact us at Growing Together.



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