• Sharlene Matthieu, MD

Talking to Our Kids About Tragic Events

It's been rough, hasn't it? Hearing about mass shootings and other tragedies is hard enough to process, and when they happen in schools it feels especially heart-wrenching. For families of color, who are already processing so much grief and trauma, every new tragic event can be a tipping point. As parents, we not only have to manage our feelings and fears, but also our children's. That can feel like an impossible task, but here are some steps that may be helpful.

  • Take a breath. It is perfectly fine for our children to see our grief and our rage, but we also want to model how to channel that and moderate our behavior. Cry, and let your kids know it's okay to cry. It's okay to cuss a little too, parents... it's better than punching a wall. But then show them how to have a snack, take a nap, do some deep breathing, and hug each other.

  • Turn off the television. It's not good for any of us right now, but especially for our kids, to have new events repeated over and over.

  • Get outside, even if it is just a walk around the block.

  • Be honest. We want our conversations to be age-appropriate, but kids know when we are not being honest. And I guarantee you they can always imagine the worst when they don't have honest answers.

  • It is perfectly fine if you would like your child to not be present at school when lockdown drills happen. The data on their usefulness is lacking, and if it causes too much anxiety for your child, talk to your school and have them let you know when these are happening.

  • Speak up, vote, make your voices heard. There are many organizations working to make these events a thing of the past, Moms Demand Action is one of them.

  • Reach out for help if you are struggling. Ask a friend to go for a walk, text somebody, call your doctor. Please call us if you are worried about your child.


Here are some helpful resources for having these difficult conversations.


Sesame Street in Communities has some wonderful resources for talking to your children about multiple topics, including violence.


PBS Kids has some helpful tips on talking to our kids and listening.


The American Academy of Pediatrics also has helpful guidance.


Dawn Huebner, PhD has a book titled Something Bad Happened: A Kid’s Guide to Learning About Events in the News, which is a good guide for working through the feelings and learning coping skills. This is geared for kids 6 - 12 years old.


From one parent to another, sending you each hugs.