Talking with Children about the Tragedy at Virginia Tech

The following is from an amazing woman at our church and I wanted to share it with those of you who are parents, or anyone in general, trying to understand how to talk with your children, or others, about the tragedy at Virginia Tech

If we could only placate the world’s rage with a drop of poetry or love–but only the struggle and the daring heart are able to do that.
–Pablo Neruda

Talking About the Tragedy at Virginia Tech
– Paula Stiernberg, Ed. D (Director of Children & Family Ministries)

In times of tragedy, like the massacre at Virginia Tech this week, parents are often torn about how to help their children understand and cope.

Generally speaking, parents can help young children by:

Limiting media about the event. We cannot predict what will be said or shown on TV or radio. It’s best to limit their exposure at this time.

Be open to discussion if your child brings up the incident.

Use reflective listening as your first and best tool. This means that you ask your child to tell you what he thinks about what he’s heard or seen. Whatever the response, this is not the time to correct or lecture; the goal is for them to be able to safely express what they are thinking to you.

Know that your child relates everything that happens in his/her world to his/herself.

Children are focused on self; they’re supposed to be at this stage. Everything that happens to someone else could happen to him/her. (S)he is seeking your reassurance. Be even more available for hugging, lap sitting, snuggling than usual and say over and over, “The adults at home and at school know how to take care of you and keep you safe.” This reassurance will help ease her fears during this anxious time.

We don’t really know.
Don’t be afraid to answer a question with, We don’t really know. If your child asks why a person would do such a thing, you could say you don’t really know but that it does make you sad.

Try to move on.
Try to move on to another subject, but don’t close the conversation until your child appears ready. Do take the first opportunity to ease into some other topic.

Monitor your emotional response to the situation in front of your child.
Remember, children are such sponges. If you are despondent, your child will be very upset because they love you so much.

Offer to pray with your child on behalf of the families involved in the tragedy.
Everyone involved can be helped by God’s love, so when we pray for these people, we’re reminding ourselves and our children that God walks with us even in dark days such as this.

From Sara:

Keep the dialogue open and know that you are the source your child most relies upon for guidance, assurance, help, love, compassion and understanding. Even when we don’t know all the answers as parents, your availability and open presence is reassuring to a child. Or a partner. Or a neighbor. Or your own parents.

We must continue to work together as national and international communities to develop ways to communicate and support one another, to learn to grow from such tragic occurances. By talking with one another, educating one another, understanding one another’s differences (from differences in religion to cultures), and deciding as people what is healthy and appropriate behaviour and what is not…only in this way can we hope to find relief, balance, hope and strength in our human condition. There will always be conflict and strife, but it is how we are prepared for that conflict and strife that we can learn to divert, resolve or prevent such horrific consequences…through communication and growth we can learn to best serve one another and not just the self.


2 Comments on “Talking with Children about the Tragedy at Virginia Tech”

  • Hi Sara…well I am about to go back to school where I teach my beautiful drama students after the 2 week break and no doubt there will be endless discussion as to what happened at sad for one and all…
    I thought I would let you know I finally got Motherlode-and LOVE IT! ( Like I wouldn’t love one of your albums!!!)Thanks for your wonderful talent.
    I celebrated one year of marriage in Jan, and I was lucky to do so…as I had a heart attack in Oct last year…2 stents later I am ALIVE and well. I would like to remind all women that Heart disease is a silent killer for us and we need to get ourselves to a hospital asap. So many women get misdiagnosed it is a tragedy!
    Get you cholesterol checked and watch that weight!

    I hope the family is well….Sydney would love to see you…

  • Chad


    “…through communication and growth we can learn to best serve one another and not just the self.” – Sara

    “One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” – Albert Schweitzer

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