CONTACT Talking with your child about tragedy - Dr. Christian Thurstone

Today’s massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut is devastating. At this time, 27 people, including 20 children, are reported dead.

A common question at times like these is, “How should I discuss this with my children?” There is no script — but there are helpful strategies that might allow you and your child to talk through things together. I found a few good resources I hope you’ll find helpful.

PBS Parents offers wonderful guidance under five basic recommendations:

  • Start by finding out what your child already knows.
  • Ask a follow-up question.
  • Explain simply.
  • Listen, and acknowledge.
  • Offer reassurance.

Dr. David Fassler, writing for the The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, offers good guidance. Among his suggestions is this passage that caught my eye:

Be prepared to repeat information and explanations several times. Some information may be hard for them to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may also be a way for a child to ask for reassurance.

The Academy also has posted the following papers you may find of interest:

The Child Mind Institute also has posted a good guide on how to help children cope with terrible news of someone’s death, and the Institute posted this video about caring for kids after a school shooting:

About Chris Thurstone

Dr. Christian Thurstone is one of only a few dozen physicians in the United States who are board-certified in general, child and adolescent and addictions psychiatry. He is Director of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, where he conducts research on youth substance use and addiction and serves as director of medical training for the university’s addiction psychiatry fellowship program. You can read more about him here.

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