Talking to Children About a Tragedy

  • Prepare them for hearing bad news and tell them in clear and unequivocal terms.
  • Allow them their shock and horror. Don’t rush with explanations or attempts to reduce their fright or sadness.
  • Some children may have no obvious response and that is ok. It may hit them later.
  • Once their emotions have settled then you can emphasize that this is rare or even bring up Olam Haba, and the like.
  • If they ask about the facts, tell them accurately.
  • Present the facts as you know them. This is especially important for boys between 6 and 12.
  • If you distort the facts or cover them up, they will compare notes with their friends and if everybody is hearing something different that will exacerbate their fear.
  • Make it clear that the family did nothing wrong, nor were there bad people who purposely inflicted the harm.
  • Any child who experienced a tragedy himself or is going through a rough time will be more vulnerable.
  • Those who know the family or live near them may respond more profoundly.
  • Even without that, children differ in their emotional reactions and that is no indication of their sensitivity or lack thereof.
  • Pre-school-age children will not understand the death but may be scared and need assurances that this won’t happen to their parents or other loved ones.
  • At those young ages, they may associate the tragedy with comparable and harmless situations in which their parents leave by car. In such circumstances, unequivocal assurances of the parents safety should be conveyed.
  • Scared children, particularly pre-school, will be listening to facial expressions and body language as well as words. Make sure you have dealt with your emotions before speaking to the children.
  • It is o.k. if the adult cries as long as it is explained to the child that this is a healthy and normal outlet.
  • Adolescents, particularly girls, may have a particularly strong response and may need to have that gently contained.
  • If a child’s fear and distress lingers, give them something to do such as davening, tzedakah and the like.
  • Let the children know that they can come to you any time or ask any questions.
  • Let them contact us if they need further help.

Chai Lifeline Crisis Team

Dr. Norman N. Blumenthal | Zahava Farbman, LMSW | Rabbi Yaakov D. Klar, LMSW

Director of Community Outreach | Chai Lifeline — Project Chai

151 West 30th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001

Direct: 212.894.8240 | Fax: 212.465.0949 | Mobile: 917.710.7857 | email: jklar@chailifeline.org