Talking to children after tragedy

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you that have been affected by the devastating tragedy here in Boston. It is beyond comprehension.

As the news unfolds and we all try to make sure that our loved ones and friends are okay, here are some suggestions for parents (adapted from our advice after the Connecticut shootings):

  • Tell your children what happened–it’s important that they hear it from you. Do it in a broad-strokes way (“There were explosions at the marathon and some people were hurt”)
  • Answer their questions simply and honestly (again, in a broad-strokes way–details aren’t necessary)
  • Limit their exposure to media. It’s hard not to end up glued to the television, especially as events are unfolding, but it may be very upsetting to children. Use your laptop or smart phone instead.
  • Make sure they know that events like these are very rare. It’s usually very safe to be in public places.
  • Let them know that you, and other helping adults, are working all the time to keep them safe. Talk about some of the ways you do this.
  • Understand that they, like you, may need time to process what has happened. They may be upset but not even know why, so be patient if they act out in unusual ways.
  • If your child is very sad or anxious and nothing you are doing is helping, call your doctor.
  • Give lots of extra hugs. They will help you, too.

These resources, which we suggested at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting, may be helpful:

From Boston Children’s Hospital: Coping with Frightening Events

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has the following resources:

Talking with Kids About News, from PBS Parents. They also have tips on communication strategies.

How to Talk to Kids About Tragedies in the Media, from the Child Development Institute

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy-Related Anxiety, from Mental Health America

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a number of resources on their website


  • nuvs

    Thank you for sharing this advice.

  • Jamie Perkins Freedman

    Thank you!!