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Helping Kids Feel Secure When Tragedy Strikes

The Truth Is Scary... and Better Than the Alternative

How do you help kids feel strong and secure in a world where terrifying things happen?

When war and violence are constantly in the news, it can feel overwhelming even for us as adults. And it can be even tougher for kids.

We want kids to be aware of the world, without being afraid of it. How do you strike that balance when something objectively scary is happening?

In this newsletter, Sue and I share some tips for how to help safeguard kids’ confidence when conflict and tragedy rear their heads.

Fish Stark
Head of Program & Curriculum

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There are no easy ways to explain war and disaster to kids, but there are ways to help them feel more confident and less worried. Here’s a playbook for talking to kids when tragedy strikes.

1️⃣ The truth is scary… and better than the alternative

Tell the truth. Yes, hearing about tragedy can be upsetting and overwhelming. But when kids are able to understand the basic facts of a situation—what is and isn’t happening, and why—they feel more in control, even if it’s scary at first. Sometimes parents try to distract from these conversations in a good-faith attempt to protect kids. But that almost always backfires. Why?


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Some days—in fact, many days—it feels like everything we hear and read in the news is negative. Floods, fires, earthquakes, war, terrorist attacks, school shootings—it’s hard to avoid having to deal with tragedy and trauma almost on a daily basis. And this is exacerbated by the fact that as humans, we are already hard wired to focus on the negative.

As world events have unfolded over the past many decades—from the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 to today—I’ve been able to see the impact of these incidents on members of college communities, especially students. I’ve also had a chance to witness the way that campus leadership (particularly college and university presidents) have chosen to communicate with, calm and support their students. This includes letters, emails, social media postings, interviews and one-on-one interactions.


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