Adult talking to childIn light of the recent tragic events in Paris and Beirut, you may be wondering if, and how, to explain this and other tragedies to your children.

Naline Lai, MD, and Julie Kardos, MD, pediatricians at CHOP Primary Care in Newtown and co-founders of the Two Peds in a Pod blog, suggest relaying the facts about what happened in a straightforward, age appropriate manner.

“Even though an event may have taken place far away from home, the media can make it seem as if it happened next door,” says Dr. Lai.

It’s also important to talk about what happened in order to reassure kids they’re not the cause of any worry or tension they’re sensing.

“Kids can sense your emotions, even when you haven’t told them why you’re feeling a certain way,” says Dr. Kardos. “Not telling your children about an event that’s troubling you may make them concerned that they’re to blame for any worried or hushed conversations they overhear.”

Need more help having tough conversations with your kids? Dr. Lai and Dr. Kardos shared the following tips:

  • Offer concrete answers to your kids’ questions, but don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” 
  • Look for the helpers. Mr. Rogers who hosted Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for 30 years, tells this story about seeing scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” 
  • If your kids ask, “Will that happen here?” or “Why did that happen?” keep your answers simple and straightforward. For instance you can say, “I don’t know, but many people are working hard to prevent something like that from happening here.” 
  • Consider answering questions with a question. Asking, “What do you think?” will give you an idea of exactly what your child fears. 
  • Reach out to others for help answering tough question. For example, you can suggest speaking with a minister or school counselor to see what they have to say. 
  • Suggest ways for your kids to do something tangible that is helpful to those affected by recent events. They can set up a coin collection jar at school or put aside part of their allowance for a donation. 

The most important things you as a parent can do are to help your children feel secure in themselves and in the world around them. You may not hold all the answers to why a tragedy strikes, but you do hold the ability to comfort and reassure your children.

If your child seems overly anxious and fearful, and her worries are interfering with her ability to conduct her daily activities, such as performing at school, sleeping, eating, and maintaining strong relationships with family and friends, it’s important to seek professional help.

For more advice on this topic, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website.