It is the duty of adult caregivers to ensure that young children are exposed to only age-appropriate media content. However, it may not always be possible to keep news about tragic events like natural disasters or accidents, happening both near and far. Whether or not, children ask about such news or comment on them, educators need to engage with children on such matters. But talking about tragic events can be tricky as a fine balance has to be kept between being truthful and positive.
So if you are an educator, here are a few guidelines for talking to children about tragic events.
- Foster positive associations about talking and listening so that children feel safe to ask questions or discuss in the classroom.
- If a tragic event has recently taken place, invite children to talk about their thoughts and feelings about it.
- If any child seems unwilling to talk, avoid pressing them. Instead, take the initiative to open the conversation about the event and its aftermath. You could begin by saying, “As you know, there was a (nature of accident in place name). Many people were killed or injured. I would like to talk with you about this and answer any questions or worries you may have”.
- You do not have to share gruesome details of the event; keep information simple but truthful – the former will support children to understand what has happened while the latter will help them clear up any misinformation.
- Expect children to ask the same questions over and over in their efforts to make sense of events.
- Explore with children words like, “sad”, “worried”, “safe”, and “hurt” to help them express what they are feeling in relation to the tragic event.
- Bear in mind that children may open up about the event while you have a conversation or after a few days so let them take their time.
- Let them know that it is OK to cry if they feel like doing it.
- Provide non-verbal options to children to express their feelings and thoughts about the event – this could through pretend play, playground play or activities like drawing and colouring. Engage with them in their activities so that you can identify cues that indicate their willingness to talk about the event.
- When children want to know why something tragic happened, look for age-appropriate explanations like ‘We don’t know yet how this [accident] happened. Sometimes things break/ go wrong/and people make mistakes in ways that nobody was expecting. These events are extremely rare but very scary and sad for the people involved. This acknowledges the severity of the event but also reassures them that it is an unlikely event. Finally, talk to children about all the people like aid workers and emergency personnel who are helping the injured or working to make the world a safer place.
Guidelines For Parents, Caregivers and Teachers, Psychology