Talking to Kids About Tragic Events

It was an abnormal day. Daddy was home when the Kid woke up and she got to spend some quality time with him and I got to sleep in. A little after 8 am we left to take Daddy to the train station so that he could go to Toronto for work. The Kid wanted to stay in the parking lot and see the train so we waited, and then she declared she had to go to the bathroom. I picked her up and walked to the station and just before we reached the doors I saw the train coming, so I pointed it out to her and that's when I realized that something was wrong – the train was coming towards the station on an angle. My immediate reaction was to say "oh my god." By now everyone reading this has heard about the crash between the train and the bus that morning. We didn't realize at that moment what was happened on the other side of that train. We went to find Daddy and check in because clearly his plans would have to change.

I'm a news junkie as it is, and seeing an incident made me want to know that much more about what was happening and the news got worse and worse through the morning, but I knew immediately that I had to be very careful about what my three year old saw and heard.

She knew from my immediate reaction that the train wasn't supposed to do that. She said she wanted to stay to see the next train and we had to explain that trains probably wouldn't be moving any time soon.

But at an age where she picks up on everything we're saying, how to I continue to protect her from the news? And what about as she grows older and understands more?

When I dropped her off at preschool I informed the teacher of what she had seen, and that she had mentioned the train again a couple of times and might bring it up at school. The first question I will need to ask her when she gets home will be if she has any questions and doing my best to answer them. I will be mindful of things she says over the next few days.

If she were older I would tell her that a bad accident happened and people got hurt, that there are ways people like us can help, like checking in with our friends, donating blood and sending thanks to our emergency services workers.

I don't believe in shielding my child from the world because I know that someday it would all come crashing down around her, but I do believe that there are things she can handle at this moment in time and things she cannot. This is a house where we pay attention to the news so I can't just keep her in the dark.

At any age talking to her will be key. Talking to her about these things will teach her that talking helps and is always allowed.

I sought out some resources that I wanted to share:

  • Sesame Street has a parents section on their website with tool kits for dealing with different issues and they have produced some videos for parents as well;
  • A handout for parents from the National Association of School Psychologists;
  • A post on the New York Times website for teachers about helping students deal with difficult events in the news;
  • A post from PBS Parents with strategies for speaking to your children and
  • A post from the Mayo Clinic about talking to children at different ages.

I'd love to get a conversation going about this to find more.