How do I talk to my child about tragedy?

Sadly bad stuff happens in life. In fact every day as the news is broadcast across television, internet and other news media sourcesWeb_14; children are seeing and hearing about events that may have them asking questions.

As parents we naturally want to protect our children from tragedy ,however rather than avoiding explanations, or brushing them off with “you don’t need to worry about that“, it’s important to begin conversations with children by focussing on making children feel safe in their immediate world , rather than their fears associated with the events they may have seen or heard.

Some of the best advice I have heard in this area was by a man called Fred Rodgers (an American educator) who once said , “When I was a boy and would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me ,”look for the helpers, you will always find people helping”.

So following on from this valuable advice – looking for the helpers amidst the tragedy, is a good way to begin conversations with children about bad stuff. Initially try and find out what your children already know, they may know a lot or very little about the event, either way it’s a good starting point for conversations. Children may be experiencing a whole range of emotions ranging from fear, anger, or sadness. Using age appropriate language the focus needs to be kept on building their sense of safety and security and making sense of the world around them, whilst at the same time acknowledging their emotions.

So for example a discussion regarding the recent train tragedy in Spain might be:
“A very sad thing happened in a country called Spain where a train was going too fast and crashed into a wall. People were hurt and some people died. But many people were taken to the hospital where the doctors looked after them and made them better. Trains run all the time and this was a very unusual event. Usually trains are safe and fun to travel on. The police are helping to find out why the train was travelling too fast so that we can be sure it is safe to travel on trains again. The police here make sure it is safe to travel on our trains and even keep us safe in our neighbourhood.”

It’s important to focus on all the people who do help to keep us safe. You could mention police, ambulance officers, teachers, and football or netball coaches, even babysitters all keep us safe in different parts of our life. Talking to children about the people who keep them safe and then doing some “what ifs” there was an emergency, who would keep them safe, can reassure and help your child develop resilience.

Grandparents do it Tough

Finding out that you are going to be a grandparent can be the most wonderful news as you imagine days spent lavishing love and attention on grandchildren.

This dream however is often not the reality…..grandparenting can be a tough gig.

Providing childcare for working parents, providing permanent care for grandchildren, the effects of relationship breakdown in their adult children, combined with the fact that they may also be providing care for elderly parents….all while trying to hold down an job, are the biggest challenges facing today’s grandparents.

Sometimes grandparents, particularly grandmothers, who provide the majority of the care , can feel put upon , and struggle with wanting some time to themselves but also wanting to be there to support their family.

Issues around setting boundaries regarding expectations of adult children can emerge. In addition possible conflicts around parenting styles can occur, along with financial implications for grandparents whose careers take a back seat.

Feelings of guilt can occur if grandparents are not seen as always available, along with feeling isolated from peers, physical and mental issues can emerge.

On the other hand grandparents also report that they have found having care of grandchildren has enriched their lives. Grandparents enjoy the challenge of physically keeping up with their grandchildren, along with trying to keep abreast of all the technology grandchildren are familiar with.

It would appear then, that whilst being a grandparent today can bring many rewards as we are more involved with our children and grandchildren’s lives, this can at times however be a doubled edge sword, as grandparents endeavour to juggle their own lives to meet everyone’s demands.

Providing more support and information to grandparents about issues of interest or concern, along with providing more practical support such as services available in the community or parenting strategies is necessary.

As a result of this growing need for information around all aspects of grandparenting , Centacare has developed a program aimed at providing information for grandparents. Issues such as child development and impact on behaviour, discipline and grandchildren, setting boundaries and effective communication, technology and cyber safety, self-care and accessing community resources are all covered in this program.

This 3 hour program aims to provide grandparents with knowledge, information and support, to assist them in the valuable role they play in our community. To book into, or find out more about this course or any of the courses Centacare offers around parenting please contact Centacare on 08 82108200 or visit the Centacare website on

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