How To Talk With Children About Tragedy


Dealing with tragedy is not easy for anyone. However, comforting children who have faced tragedy, and helping them cope and understand its reality and significance, can be especially challenging. Unfortunately, tragedy is a universal feature of the human condition, and children are not exempt from it, whether it comes in the form of the death of a pet or a parent.  

Keeping Development In Mind  

It is difficult enough for adults to grapple with or understand death; children will have even greater difficulties understanding why they will not be seeing their dog Spot, or their daddy, anymore. While older children may be able to handle receiving more information, couching the reality of the absence of the loved one in simple language, such as “We won’t be seeing daddy anymore,” is safer for younger children. Be sure, furthermore, to amply assure the child that you will be there for him during this difficult time.

Catering To Curiosity  

Always be sure to answer any questions your children may have about tragedy. Sometimes they require more time to process the tragedy than adults. This means that they may not ask such questions until later on. However, always be sure to encourage them to come to you with whatever questions they may be struggling with.  

The Regressing Child  

Children do not necessarily express grief the way an adult might expect. Instead of open weeping, they may regress to behavioral tendencies more age-appropriate for a younger child. For example, they may want to sleep with their parents or they may want to cuddle with a favorite toy. Such behaviors are normal for children coping with loss. After 1-2 months of such behavior, the child should return to age-appropriate behavior. If these behaviors persist beyond this point, however, you may want to consult with your pediatrician, especially if the behavior begins to interfere with their appetite or their functioning at school.  

Be Sure To Grieve  

Staying strong for your children does not mean repressing your own grief. It is important to be in touch with your own sadness. Indeed, your child will be able to sense when you are tense, sad or anxious, so there is no sense in pretending that there are no painful feelings to deal with.  

Ensure There Is Structure  

Without repressing grief, make sure that life continues as normal. In other words, continue family traditions. For example, if it is the custom of the family to play board games on a certain day of the week, make sure that this continues. This will make it evident to the child that, while tragedy is an inevitable part of life, it is necessary to eventually move on.