Tips for Talking with Your Child with Special Needs about Tragedy

The Exceptional Parent, August 2016 | Go to article overview

Tips for Talking with Your Child with Special Needs about Tragedy


With recent tragedies in the news, many children, including those challenged with special needs, are exposed to trauma through the media and in conversations. The Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit school serving children with special needs ages 5-14 in the Washington, DC area, offers some advice on how to talk with your child about tragedy.

"Children hear information from other children and from the activities around them. Your child will pick up information very quickly after a traumatic event happens," said Dodd White, president and CEO of ECC. "It's important for parents and guardians to set a tone of openness and support with their children, and to reassure children that they are safe." Dodd and the staff at ECC offer the following tips and advice, adapted from the Mayo Clinic, SpecialNeeds.com, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Use age appropriate language. Talk with your child about the tragedy in a way that is appropriate for his or her age. Elementary schoolers may have questions about their own safety and security. Older children may want more information about the cause of the tragedy or want to talk about how it could be prevented.

Share what is appropriate for your child. Be mindful about the personality of your child. Your child may be a six year old who laughs at monsters in movies and can handle the truth about bad guys being a reality of life. Or your child may be a 10 year old who cannot handle scary movies, and gets emotional when people are hurt. When answering your child's questions about tragic news events, let the unique personality of your child be your guide.

Let your child know it is ok to talk to you about the tragedy. Spend time talking with your child. You might not know all the answers and it is OK to say that. At the same time, don't push them to talk if they don't want to. Let them know you are available when they are ready.

Be calm. Your child will look to you for cues about how to react. It's OK for children to see adults sad or crying, but consider excusing yourself if you are experiencing intense emotions.

Reassure your child about his or her own safety. Point out factors that ensure your child's immediate safety and the safety of the community. Review your family's plans for responding to a crisis. Assure your child that he or she is safe and loved.

Limit media exposure. Constant exposure to coverage of a tragedy can heighten anxiety. Do not allow young children to repeatedly see or hear news coverage of a tragedy. Even if a young child is engrossed in play, he or she is likely aware of what you are watching on television --and can become confused or upset.

Avoid placing blame. Be careful not to blame a cultural, racial or ethnic group, or people who have mental illnesses.

Maintain your family routines. …

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