From Terrorism to Tsunamis: Talking to Kids about Tragedy

The news has been filled with reports of terrorism, mass shootings and natural disasters lately. Discussing these topics with children can be difficult for parents. However, talking to your kids about these events helps them process a hard situation and hopefully encourages development of healthy coping skills for the future.

Explain what happened.

Simple, direct explanation of events is important when children are exposed to tragedy on the news, through discussion with peers, or when somehow related to the event. Remember to keep your explanation straightforward, and age-appropriate.

Don’t focus on ‘why’.

It’s not always necessary to explain reasons why bad things happen, and it might be a good opportunity to emphasize that there is not always a reason.

Model good coping skills.

Be aware of your own emotions when reacting to and discussing tragedy with and around children. Remind them that it’s OK to feel badly by discussing your emotions with them.

Encourage expression.

All children express their emotions differently. Be sure to teach and encourage productive expression of feelings, whether it’s through discussion, written, or artistic expression. Not all children are able to express their emotions. Remember not to force it.

Reach out to your pediatrician.

If you think your child is not coping well, their doctor may be able to help. Children of all different ages and stages process events differently. Your pediatrician can help you determine what is normal, and what might need more attention.

We can’t stop all the bad news that we encounter day to day, and we can’t shield our children from it all, either. We can, however, help our children become emotionally sensitive adults by taking time to address these difficult topics when they unfortunately present themselves.

Source information for this article was provided by

Patrick Tate, MD (UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics – South Hills Pediatric Associates)