Conversations with children about difficult subjects

Posted by / Thursday 29 June 2017 / Parenting Tips Speech and Communication Safety

Terror attacks and natural disasters have dominated the news agenda of late, and has unsurprisingly caused many of us to feel emotional, angry and lost.

Regardless of age, these events affect us all and prompt difficult questions from our children.

So just how do we provide the answers they need, without unduly scaring them?

First reassure your child

When waking up to a traumatic piece of breaking news, firstly reassure your child that they are safe. Depending on their age, they may understand what has happened, clearly explain what is going on, and try to do it in a familiar setting - where they feel safe.

It is important to listen carefully to their concerns, and answer their questions as best as you can.


Young children - Under 5

For those of you with younger children, ones under five, discretion is key. Wanting to protect them is not a bad thing, and the first step you can take is to limit their exposure to the media. Young children may not necessarily be able understand death, or the seriousness of the situation.

That said, if your child is more aware of what’s happening (they could have been told by a friend at school, or heard it on the news), then questions are likely to come.

This is the time to be honest and explain events as best as you can.

"Looking after yourself is important too. It is okay to take a couple of days rest to gather our thoughts, reflect and be together. Remember - we all need a break."


Older children - 5-18 years

For older children, their age can be a marker for how deep you delve into the subject. Aim to reassure them that this incident is very isolated and that life carries on.

There is no harm in explaining there are ways your children can help by raising awareness in their own way - whether it’s by fundraising or volunteering, the choice is yours.

We have all been told at various points to “Keep Calm and Carry On”, and it is no different in this scenario. Supporting each other and staying strong is key. Following the usual family routine instills comfort and habit, which helps your child to feel calm.

"It is important to remember that we are all different. Our ways of processing traumatic events can differ completely from one person to the next, so patience is key."

Children may try to break things down and process them internally. They may show sadness, anger or even guilt, it may result in them feel physically unwell with tummy aches and headaches. Recent events have been a lot for them to take in.

This shouldn’t be anything to worry about, but if you feel they are overwhelmed and stressing about the situation - it’s worth paying a visit to your GP.

Finally, looking after yourself is important too. While we are incredibly strong, the impact of breaking news and tragedy can differ greatly. Our reactions can be surprising. Carrying on with our routine is important, yet taking care of ourselves is crucial. It is okay to take a couple of days rest to gather our thoughts, reflect and be together. Remember - we all need a break.

Tragedies can affect us in many different ways, and support is available if you need it. If you’re worried about your child, or you would like to talk to someone yourself, consider speaking to a professional.

On the Counselling Directory website you can find a nationwide database of qualified counsellors and psychotherapists; fact sheets and FAQs to explain common mental health concerns and types of therapy. The intuitive search tool helps you find a professional suited to your specific needs and location.

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