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