Addressing Tough Topics and Questions: Talking to Children About Traumatic Events (page 2)

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Listen to and address children’s feelings

Adults are often surprised by a child’s concerns or fears.Addressing a child’s particular and personal fears is necessary. Parents and school personnel should not make assumptions about children’s thoughts, concerns or worries.

Reassure children

Do not dismiss a child’s feelings. Children can feel embarrassed or criticized when their fears are minimized. Exploring the issues and finding positive ways of coping help children master their fear and anxiety. Reassure children with facts about how people are protected (e.g., the police) and individual safety measures that can be taken (e.g., creating a hurricane preparedness plan). Avoid “what if ” fears by offering reliable, honest information. Maintaining routines and structure is also reassuring
to children and helps normalize an event and restore a sense of safety.

Provide facts and information

Once there has been some exploration about the child’s concerns and feelings, parents and school professionals should provide children with the facts and basic information about terrorism, acts of war and natural disasters.The amount of information shared should be consistent with the child’s age and maturity. In these discussions, children can be told what
is realistic and what is not, and their fears and concerns should be realistically appeased. Parents and other adults, however, should not misinform children and provide them with a false sense of safety.

Model open discussion

It is sometimes helpful for children and adolescents to open up about their thoughts and feelings.This can be achieved by the important adults in their lives taking the lead and facilitating a discussion while sharing their own thoughts and feelings. By sharing their own feelings and thoughts, these adults can help children feel that their thoughts are normal, and can help them feel that they are not alone in their concerns and fears. However, adults must monitor their communication and be careful to avoid making generalizations about groups of individuals which dehumanizes the situation. It is also important, however, that adults do not burden children with their own fears and concerns.

Provide a forum for the child to initiate the discussion and ask questions

Answering questions and addressing fears does not necessarily happen all at once in one sit-down session. New issues may arise or become apparent over time and discussion about war and terrorism should be done on an ongoing and as-needed basis.

About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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