Talking to Kids About Traumatic Events

CTY is here to provide support for the students we serve as they navigate unsettling world events together with their families and educators. Academically talented students are often exceptionally curious and strongly impacted by issues related to justice and human rights. Like all kids, they have big emotions and are still learning healthy ways to work through them. Conversations about tough topics are important: they can help youth feel invested in the issues, manage their emotions, and build empathy toward others. As part of CTY’s commitment to our students, the Student Support Unit at CTY wants to share some tips for talking to children and teens about traumatic events:

  1. Talk about it. Set up time when everyone is feeling calm, relaxed, and free from distractions. Start a conversation by asking what the child already knows about the topic, and what they’re feeling. Asking what questions they have can prevent you from sharing too many unnecessary details. Reassure them that adults are doing all they can to keep everyone safe. Don’t expect to have all the answers; you can model being a good information consumer by co-learning with the child. The Conversation published an article further addressing this, and this BBC article also has good information.
  2. Encourage empathy. Where there are heated arguments on both sides, there is potential to forget our common humanity. Traumatic events are frightening for everyone. Someone’s nationality, immigration status, or ethnicity does not indicate their beliefs or make them more or less deserving of kindness and compassion. It’s important to remind students that we can stand strong in advocating for what we believe is right, while also being respectful.
  3. Seek to understand and listen. Do some research about the people involved in the conflict, as well as their backgrounds, culture, traditions, and history. These strategies encourage appreciation for cultures other than our own. You may also consider attending a peaceful local demonstration together.
  4. Limit consumption of media, monitor what and how much media your kids are consuming. Academically talented students are naturally curious, and technology makes it easier than ever to access information. If the news is upsetting to them, any amount may be too much. Common Sense Media published strategies for youth to better understand where information comes from, and Cornell University Library shares an infographic. Consider also setting up time away from media, where the child can appreciate and engage with other hobbies and interests they care about.
  5. Find healthy, helpful, ways to cope with big emotions. Feeling big feelings is part of being human. If some of the active coping strategies above feel like too much, sometimes a distraction is helpful. Visit a zoo or museum, explore an outdoor activity find a good puzzle, maze, word or sudoku game, coloring page, or other engaging activity. Sacramento University shares a variety of good activities in their Virtual Calming Room, including Live Animal Cameras from zoos across the United States.