How to Talk with Kids About Traumatic Events

reading with kids

We understand parents are worried about the mental wellbeing of their family. In these trying times, it’s especially important for children to feel seen, supported and heard. 

As our kids grapple with feelings of confusion and big questions, they need us now more than ever. To help you have difficult conversations, we’re sharing tips from youth development professionals at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

  1. Process your own emotions. Label your own emotions and use self-care strategies – kids will look to you as role models for how to cope with their emotions.
  2. Listen to your child(ren). Allow them to speak freely about their feelings without interruptions or interjections. This creates trust for healthy dialog.
  3. Set up options and provide clear directions for managing overwhelming emotional responses. These options could include permission to leave the room or just having a period of silence for processing or support.
  4. Validate and de-escalate emotions when possible, but also realize that some children, especially those who have experienced complex trauma, often have difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions.
  5. Check in with your child periodically throughout the day, to ensure that they are managing emotional experiences in a healthy manner and that they continue to feel safe.
  6. As a parent or caregiver, remember you don’t have all the answers. That’s okay. Learn to say “I don’t know” or invite others to share their own answers instead.
  7. Be authentic and respectful. It is natural to worry whether you are saying “the right thing.” However, respectful authenticity is often more important because the chief contributor to a psychologically safe environment/ home is learning to have honest conversations in healthy and constructive ways.
  8. Seek help if you still don’t feel comfortable with having the discussion with your child. Ask for help from another family member, friend, or professional to provide emotional support & guidance.
  9. Offer a variety of ways for your child(ren) to deal with their emotions in productive, constructive, and meaningful ways. Consider devoting time to physical activities, art, music, and/or quiet time following your discussions.
  10. Look for solutions. Kids are action-oriented – ask, “What can we do to create positive change in our community?” and support them in starting a meaningful project or campaign

Thank you to the Boys and Girls Club for sharing these important tips! We encourage you to share these best practices with your friends and loved ones. Together, as a community and a nation, we can find a path forward where children have a voice in creating the positive change every person deserves.

For more parent resources from the Boys and Girls Club, visit https://www.bgca.org/news-stories/

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