Truth and Light: Speaking to Kids about Traumatic Situations

Date: April 2, 2020 l Author: Terri Galindo, LCSW, LMFT

Children know there’s a problem well before we tell them. They feel it in the people around them. They see it on our faces, notice that something has changed, hear the slight shakiness in our voices, and notice the avoidance in eye contact and touch. If we continue to hide the reason for the change, they will feel insecure. Insecurity will lead to changes in behaviors on their part.

We need to be frank with our kids. They already know something is wrong, we might as well come out with it. But how do we do that?

  • Prepare yourself. Pray. Wait until a time when you can have some control of your anxieties and when you have a good idea of what you are going to say.
  • Get the facts. Gather all of the facts that you can. You want to provide them with the truth, not the hearsay or misinformation.
  • Don’t make things up because you are trying to protect them, but instead be honest. They are better off with the truth, even though difficult, than a lie that might cause mistrust in the future.
  • Prepare answers for what you anticipate your child might ask.
  • Consider the age of the children to whom you will be speaking. Modify what you want to tell them according to the physical and emotional ages of the children. Consider how they typically handle bad news.
  • Tell them the news face-to-face. If they are very young, get on the floor with them or be close to them.
  • Give them enough time and space to process the news and formulate questions. Don’t rush through it.
  • Take them seriously. Children will often focus on themselves and jump to conclusions about how this will affect them.
  • Ensure that they know that whatever happened is not their fault.
  • Be as positive as possible. Assure them that you are there to help them through it.
  • Have a plan about how the family is going to handle the situation and what their part in the plan is. Ask them for input as to what they can do.
  • Keep them close. Even in catastrophic events, it is best not to send children away. This causes increased anxieties. As much as possible, keep them with you.
  • If this is a newsworthy event, avoid the 24/7 news cycle. Modify news watching to a few times per day. Keep up to date, but don’t allow it to consume you or your kids.
  • Keep communication open. Assure the child or teen that you want to hear their concerns and that they can come and talk to you about it again anytime.
  • Pray without ceasing. Ask for God’s guidance and protection.