Talking to Children About Traumatic Events


Sophia Dingmon

In this day and age, children ages 7-10 see and hear about traumatic events daily. There’s no escape from the stories on the news and no escape from their wandering eyes and ears. They will have questions and we are the ones they will come to. So how do we talk to an adolescent about these disturbing stories this world has brought to us? How could we possibly explain to a happy, giddy, vulnerable child about the death and cruelty of the outside world?

Lisa Hendershott, a 9th grade English teacher at Ashley Ridge High School, says that as a parent, they should know what their child can handle or not. “…You should tell them what they can understand and not more than they need to know,” Hendershott says. Telling too much information can confuse a child and potentially hurt their innocence. Simply answer the child’s questions so you know what they know and what they’re ready to hear.

Being truthful is key. “If you don’t want to be honest, you shouldn’t tell them anything,” Hendershott says. Starting to have honest, open conversations when the child is younger is a smart idea. It assures the child that they can speak with you about any subject. Remain calm and have an encouraging tone of voice. If you are uncomfortable or nervous, they will shut down. They won’t continue to talk to you about certain topics and could open up to someone else and hear what they are not ready for. Holding the child’s hand, giving them a hug, or any other form of loving touch could help assure the child. 

An anonymous source says that as a child who went through trauma, they wish people had known it for what it was and not made excuses for it. “They swept it under the rug and didn’t deal with it,” they say. Pushing aside conversations about public or personal trauma with a child is the worst option. When the opportunity presents itself, talk to them, do not correct them in any way, or put words in their mouth. Their maturity level and the traumatic event should determine how much they should be told.

If the child has had personal trauma, professional help should be sought. Using a physical object, like a doll with multiple faces, could help a child point out their feelings. Our source says, “It’s important to know that, as a parent, their child could not understand what they’re feeling or what exactly happened.” Helping them decipher what they are feeling can help you to know what they should be told about a topic and exactly how it should be approached.