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Talking to kids about tragic events or civil unrest

How do you talk to your kids about tragic events or civil unrest happening in our world?
When talking to children about tragic events or civil unrest, it is important to keep the following in mind:

• Try to be in charge of what and how your child learns about the event. Depending upon the age of your child, it is a good idea to limit children’s exposure to traumatic news stories and images. Older children might use social media to communicate with their friends about events. It is important to monitor their interpretation of what is happening around them.

• When exposure is unavoidable, provide basic information about what happened at an age appropriate level. Brief, basic facts are typically appropriate for younger children, while older children and teens may have more questions. Don’t overwhelm young children with too much information, but be sure
to address questions as they arise.

• Do not assume that the child’s worries and questions are the same as your own. Each child will understand and react differently. This will vary to some extent with age or developmental level, personality and pre-existing anxiety, and the manner in which the information is presented.

• Use open-ended statements and questions such as “Tell me what you know” and “What questions do you have?” rather than “Do you understand what happened?” and “Do you have any questions?” This will help you get a better sense of the child’s understanding, worries and desire for more
information. Adults and students will have differing opinions about the “right” or “wrong” of events happening around them. Possible messages/responses when students want your opinion:
o “We need to work for peace in our community.”
o “I want you to be safe. “
o “What can we do in the community to make sure we all get along?”
o “We need to make sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”

• Acknowledge the events in a calm way and provide reassurance about the child’s own safety and security. Be honest – don’t tell children something “could never happen” here, or to them – but minimize anxiety. Focus your ability and efforts to keep them safe from harm.

• Monitor your own emotions. Exposure to devastating news is upsetting and overwhelming for adults.


It is natural to be emotional at times. However, children look to their parents and other significant
adults for a sense of whether or not things are “o.k.” Parents often serve as a child’s “barometer”
regarding their own safety and security. It is important for parents to manage their own stress level and reassure children that everything will be okay.


Additional Resources: 

When Bad Things Are Happening

Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

How to Help your Child Cope with Tragic Events

Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in a Crisis