10 Tips on Talking to a Child After a Tragedy


​Tragic events such as the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school are difficult for anyone to comprehend and process. Locally and across the country, we collectively mourn the loss of life every time such a senseless tragedy occurs. In addition, children’s own sorrow, fear and despair can be heightened as they watch and hear about the plight of grieving students, teachers and the affected community in school, on social media and the nightly news. As parents, it is important that we reassure our children that though we hear about these tragedies, we, their school and other adults in their world are always working to ensure their safety.

Diane Snyder Cowan, Director of Western Reserve Grief Services, offers these tips for talking to children after a tragedy:

1. Process through the tragedy yourself before talking with your children.

2. Remain calm. Your ability to manage your fears and emotions will help your child manage their feelings and build healthy coping skills.

3. Allow yourself and your child/children to be angry and question why horrible things like this happen in the world.

4. Be patient and available to answer questions honestly and in an age appropriate manner. It is okay if you cannot answer certain questions due to a lack of information or comfort level. “I don’t know,” is an acceptable answer!

5. Be honest about your feelings. Sharing your feelings and fears with your children gives them a sense of hope and validates their emotions.

6. Consider how this event might trigger grief reactions related to recent deaths or other traumatic events in your life.

7. Remember that your child may need to revisit the event and ask the same question repeatedly in an effort to understand their emotions and process the event.

8. Provide your child/children with a safe place to share their feelings, discuss nightmares they are having as a result of the tragedy and fears.

9. Take a break from the media exposure. Turn off the TV, radio, refrain from using Facebook and Twitter and limit adult conversation.

10. Ask about the emergency security protocol at your child’s school. Share these plans with your child/children to promote a sense of safety in their school.

Following such a crisis, expert on-site support frequently plays an instrumental role in helping students and faculty navigate the painful experiences of trauma, grief and loss. Locally, the bereavement center at Hospice of the Western Reserve – now called Western Reserve Grief Services -  has offered a Crisis Response Program to provide immediate, on-site crisis response to deaths in the school communities of Northern Ohio for more than 15 years.

The program has been utilized by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and many others. The services are available to any school system in the nonprofit agency’s service area. Trained bereavement professionals are available to provide on-site response. A single phone call from the school is all it takes to mobilize resources. In a typical year, trained grief and trauma support specialists from the organization deliver immediate on-site crisis support to 1,000 students and 250 adults.

In coordination with the school, trained and experienced bereavement professionals are available to lead classroom, small or large group student discussions, hold informational meetings with parents, provide individualized sessions during a crisis response and offer guidance to teachers and staff. Follow-up services such as memorial activities, small support group interventions and educational programs are available as needed. Proactive services are also offered including crisis response planning. 

The program is one of the many ways Hospice of the Western Reserve extends its expertise in end-of-life care and bereavement support to the community at large.

For more information on these services and to obtain additional resources on speaking with children on grief, visit: hospicewr.org/griefandloss.

We Can Help

Speak with the referral team by contacting us seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Any first visit and admission can be made the first day.

Northern Ohio's Hospice of Choice

More than 1,000 Hospice of the Western Reserve employees and 3,000 volunteers live and work side-by-side in the same neighborhoods with our patients and families. We are privileged to have cared for more than 100,000 Northern Ohioans since our inception.