Helping Students Change Today's Challenges into Tomorrow's Opportunities
Moore Public Schools' Mental Health Therapists work to normalize and promote the importance of mental health for our students, teachers, parents, and community at large. We empower students to overcome challenges both past and present in order to foster student success. Our program encourages health and wellness, strengthening families, reducing isolation, and building a sense of connection and community.
After a Crisis – Parents’ Guide for Talking to Their Children
Why should I talk about this with my children?
What questions are children likely to have?
They will ask what happened.
Children and teenagers are better able to cope with upsetting news when they understand more
about the upsetting event. They need information just as adults do. Begin by asking your child or
teenager what they already understand about the incident. They have likely heard
about it on TV, at school, or from their friends. However, much of their information may not be
accurate. As they explain what they know, you can figure out what it is they don’t already know or
understand. Look for misunderstandings or frightening rumors. Tell the truth and do not try to mislead
them “for their own good.” Children of different ages understand and react differently according to their
developmental age and unique personal experiences. It is important to remember that we cannot
assume that children's worries are the same as our own. When we listen to our children and come to
understand their feelings and worries, we can better help them make sense of these experiences and
how they affect us all.
The amount of details that children will find useful will depend upon their age. The older the child
is, the more details will likely be needed to answer their concerns. Provide the basic information
in simple and direct terms and then ask for questions. Take your cues from your child in
determining how much information to provide. Older children may wish to discuss the larger
implications of the event. Provide reassurance whenever possible; our community will rally together to
support our families, students, and teachers. Encourage your children to reach out to you, their friends,
faith communities, and other support systems.
Could I have done anything to prevent this?
After a tragic event, we all wonder what we and others could have done to prevent this from happening. Even when it is obvious that there is nothing your child or teenager could have done to prevent or minimize the crisis, they may still feel helpless and wish they could have changed what happened. Let children know that this is a normal reaction; we all wish that there is something we
could have done to prevent this or any tragedy. Instead, suggest that together you and your child
can concentrate on what can be done now to help those most directly affected in our community.
Is this going to change my life?
This is a question that we all struggle to answer, not only for our children but also for ourselves.
Especially in difficult times, children may act immaturely. Teenagers may want to spend more time
with their peers. Children and teenagers are often very concerned about themselves. When there
is a tragic event, they may become even more concerned about what affects them personally.
Adults who do not understand this may see this as being selfish or uncaring. It is important to
make your children feel comfortable in asking questions and expressing their feelings. Expect your
children to think more about themselves for the time being. Once they feel reassured that they
are being listened to and their needs will be met, they are more likely to be able to start to think
about the needs of others.
Can I help?
Once children start to feel safe and understand what is going on, many will want to help. While
there may be little that they can do now to help the immediate victims of this crisis, there is a lot
they can do to help. They can start by taking care of themselves – telling you when they are upset
or worried, being honest and open. They can also offer help to other members of their community
– their friends and classmates, their teacher, and other adults. Over time, they can think about
how they, along with other members of their community, might be able to do something helpful
for the victims and survivors.
Some of the questions my child asks are so painful to respond to. I don’t want to
make things worse, so should I say nothing instead?
Often what children and teenagers need most is to have someone they trust listen to their
questions, accept their feelings, and be there for them. Don’t worry about knowing the perfect
thing to say – there is no answer that will make everything okay. Listen to their concerns and
thoughts, answer their questions with simple, direct and honest responses, and provide
appropriate reassurance and support. While we would all want to keep our children from ever
having to hear about something like this, reality does not allow this. Being silent on the issue
won’t protect them from what happened, but only prevent them from understanding and coping
with it. Remember that answers and reassurance should be at the level of the child's
What if this upsets them?
During these discussions, children may show that they are upset – they may cry, get anxious or
cranky, or show you in some other way that they are upset. Remember, it is the events that are
upsetting them, not the discussion. Talking about the event will permit them the opportunity to
show you how upset they really are. This is the first step in coping with their feelings and adjusting
to their new understanding of the world. Pause the conversation periodically so that you can
provide support and comfort to your child and ask if he or she wishes to continue the discussion
at another time. But it is helpful for them to realize that it is okay to show you when they are
upset. Otherwise, they may try to hide their feelings and will then be left to deal with them alone.
What if they don’t ask any questions – should I bring it up? What if they don’t seem
to want to talk about it?
When a crisis of this nature occurs, it is a good idea to bring the topic up with your children,
no matter how young they are. At first, older children and teenagers may tell you that they don’t
want to or need to discuss it. It is generally not a good idea to force them to talk with you, but do
keep the door open for them to come back and discuss it later. Be available when your child is
ready to talk, but let them choose the time. Often children find it easier to talk about what other children are saying or feeling instead of talking about themselves.
How can I tell if my child needs more than I can provide? Where would I go for such
When a tragedy of this size occurs, most people will be upset. However, should your child
or teenager continue to be very upset for several days and is unable to recover from their fears,
or they are having trouble in school, home or with their friends, then it is a good idea to speak
with someone outside the family for advice.
You may wish to speak with your child’s teacher or school counseling services, pediatrician, mental health counselor or member of the clergy for advice. Please remember that you shouldn’t wait until you think they NEED counseling– you should take advantage of counseling and support whenever you think it will be helpful.
What if I have more questions? Where can I turn for answers?
Visit the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at www.schoolcrisiscenter.org, the
Coalition to Support Grieving Students at www.grievingstudents.org, the National Child Traumatic
Stress Network at http://www.nctsn.org/, or the National Association of School Psychologists at