Expert Offers Tips on Talking to Children About Tragedy

The tragic and senseless deaths of a young girl in West Hartford and a 12-year-old boy in Bridgeport this week have devastated families in both communities. And it has left parents across the state wondering if they should talk to their own children about what happened and what exactly they should say.

"There's no way that you can prepare for a loss like this. There's no way," said Quinnipiac University Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Jeffrey Deitz.

Dr. Deitz says the reaction a child has depends on the age, previous experiences, and the relationship between the child and the victim.

"You express yourself in a way that lets your child know that you're interested in knowing what's going on inside them," said Dr. Deitz.

He adds that children may express a range of emotions like anger, indifference, sadness, and confusion.

"Let us listen to how they're talking and keep an open mind because trauma can affect everybody in a different way," said Dr. Deitz.

Dr. Deitz says it can help to phrase your questions in the form of statements. Instead of asking "How are you feeling?" say "I'm interested in knowing how you're feeling." He says it's important to not only hear what your child is saying, but how they're saying it. Is there anger? Is there sadness behind the question?

Dr. Deitz adds that a child may not want to talk right away and that's okay. Experts say any unsafe feelings a child may have should go away in a short period of time, but that parents shouldn't ignore or brush off any expressions of anxiety.

“If your child says to you right after this, ‘I'm afraid to walk to the store,’ walk to the store with your child,” said Dr. Deitz.

By listening and paying attention, families can get through those difficult moments together.

"Once a child opens up and starts to talk, the best thing you can do is sit back and let it happen. That's all children will tell you, 'I just like so much that someone would listen,'" said Dr. Deitz.

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