Creative Commons/Aaron Tang

Creative Commons/Aaron Tang

How To Talk To Your Kids About….


One of the toughest things about parenting is teaching your kids about the tough stuff in life. Adults sometimes have a hard time understanding the negativity in the world; imagine how difficult it is for children—who view the world through positive eyes—to understand how and why bad things happen. I found myself face-to-face with this challenge just two days ago.

After spending a lovely day at the Chicago Children’s Museum with my youngest daughter, I arrived home to the news of the bombings in Boston. I was watching news reports when my six-year-old daughter, Sophia, asked what was going on. I walked the tightrope of being honest in a way that she could understand and not saying things that might make her fearful. I said um about a thousand times and there was a lot of throat-clearing and evasiveness on my part, but I made it through.

Everyone experiences tragedies from the cradle to the grave. Whether national or personal, it is an unavoidable part of life. My conversation with Sophia got me thinking about the best ways to talk to kids about tragedy. There is no single best way to have a discussion, but there are several good ways to approach your kids when tragedies strike.



Creative Commons/Pink Sherbet Photography

Creative Commons/Pink Sherbet Photography

Sometimes, a tragedy will occur when your kids are at school. By the time they get home, they will be full of questions…and misinformation. When your kids start asking questions, ask a few of your own to find out what they do and don’t know. “Kids hear all sorts of things at school so by the time they get home they may be pretty scared or confused,” says Dr. Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt. “If you ask them what they heard then you can give them an educated, factual answer.”

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Creative Commons/ Bindaas Madhavi

Creative Commons/ Bindaas Madhavi

Elaborate explanations are not necessary for children. In our quest to be truthful, parents sometimes bring up more questions and concerns that kids aren’t thinking about. Answer questions simply, directly, and age-appropriately so that kids have a basic understanding of what’s going on around them. As I reflect on my conversation with Sophia when she asked what was happening, I could have simply replied, “There was an accident and some people got hurt.” Turns out, she was more interested in getting her homework done so she could play before bedtime.

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Creative Commons/VeronicaLee Photography

Creative Commons/VeronicaLee Photography

Even with soothing explanations, older children may still feel scared and upset. It’s best not to let them wallow in feelings of powerlessness. Discuss ways that they can get involved and be of service to others. For example, kids can send get-well cards to survivors of a tragedy or they can donate a portion of their allowance to assist victims of disasters. These small acts of generosity not only empower kids, they give hope to those who really need it.

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Creative Commons/Fabrice D.

Creative Commons/Fabrice D.

When I was eight-years-old, I read a book about notorious fires. Learning about the power and destruction of fires scared the daylights out of me. I was obsessed with worry about my house somehow catching fire and how my family would escape. I had several sleepless nights until my father reassured me that our house wasn’t likely to catch fire. He showed me the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and we talked about an escape plan. Those things made me feel better because although my father couldn’t guarantee there would never be a fire, he let me know that he was always thinking of ways to keep me safe.

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How have you answered questions about the Boston Marathon tragedy, or any other for that matter, from your kids?

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Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is a stay at home mom and writer who loves all things chocolate. Read more about Alexis on her blog, email her at, or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5.